Australia v Pakistan First Test
Thursday December 15, 2:00pm AEDT
Returning to the longest form of the game, Australia will be looking to put their recent series defeat to South Africa behind them by getting the jump on Pakistan in the first test at the Gabba, beginning on Thursday.
The Aussies scored a consolation but confidence-boosting win over the Proteas in the final test at Adelaide three weeks ago. After making wholesale changes to the squad, including three debutants, Australia dominated from day one and ultimately racked up a relatively comfortable seven-wicket victory under lights.
While the focus was on all the new names in the side, it was a couple of regulars who played the most significant role in the win, namely man of the match Usman Khawaja who struck a superb 145 in Australia’s first innings after being elevated to the unusual position of opener following an opportune declaration from South African captain Faf du Plessis.
With the ball, Josh Hazlewood continued his excellent summer, picking up match figures of 6/109, while off-spinner Nathan Lyon found some form with three key second innings wickets. Among the debutants, middle-order batsman Peter Handscomb looked most comfortable with an assured 54 in the first innings before coming in to hit the winning runs in the second dig.
20-year-old opener Matt Renshaw showed plenty of application in seeing off the new ball under lights in the first innings, before gritting out an unbeaten 34 off 137 balls to ensure that the hosts had few troubles chasing down the tricky fourth innings target of 127.
Unfortunately talented batsman Nic Maddinson did not make the most of his opportunity, knocked over for a 12-ball duck in his only chance at the crease so he will be eager to cement his spot with some runs at the Gabba. The selectors have maintained faith in the squad from Adelaide, naming an unchanged line-up with Shaun Marsh not considered due to still suffering the effects of a broken finger.
That means that Jackson Bird and Chadd Sayers will battle it out for the final spot in the pace attack, with South Australia Sayers impressing in recent Sheffield Shield efforts.
After being ranked the number one test side as recently as two months ago, Pakistan have slipped to number four following a 2-0 series defeat away to New Zealand in November. However like Australia, the Pakistanis have named an unchanged squad with just one addition in the form of 17-year-old Mohammad Asghar who has been brought in as cover for star leg-spinner Yasir Shah who is battling a back complaint.
After missing the second test in New Zealand due to personal reasons, the visitors will welcome back captain Misbah ul-Haq with Mohammad Rizwan expected to be relegated to the sidelines after an uninspiring debut against the Black Caps.
Despite compelling domestic performances, experienced duo Mohammad Hafeez and Kamran Akmal were overlooked, with vice-captain Azhar Ali to persist at the top of the order alongside Sami Aslam which will allow precocious youngster Babar Azam to continue at first-drop.
There is plenty of competition for spots in the fast-bowling unit with Mohammad Amir, Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz, Imran Khan and Rahat Ali all jostling for positions. In fact if Yasir does not recover in time, then Pakistan may consider an all-pace attack, although spin-bowling all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz shapes as a more compatible replacement.
Pakistan’s only warm-up match resulted in a comfortable 201-run victory over a Cricket Australia XI with veteran Younis Khan top-scoring with 54, while returning speedster Amir tore through the tour side, claiming match-figures of 5/33 and swinging the pink ball prodigiously.
Pakistan rose to the number one ranking on the back of a particularly impressive record away from their adopted home of the UAE, however they will need to overcome a highly unflattering record in Australia where they have lost their last nine tests.
The Gabba has been a notable fortress for the Australians with no losses from their past 27 tests in Brisbane. However the fact this is a day-night test adds a completely different element with the pink ball historically doing more in the air at night, although in the day-night Sheffield Shield game at the Gabba earlier this season runs were not generally too hard to come by. Opener David Warner will be particularly keen to return to Brisbane, having scored three centuries in his last three tests at the ground.
- Australia have lost five out of their past six tests.
- However Australia have not lost in their past 27 tests at the Gabba.
- Pakistan have lost only one of their past four tests series away from home.
- However Pakistan have lost their last nine tests in Australia and have never won a test series there.
- Both day-night tests that have been played in Australia did not reach a fifth day.
Despite their shaky form in test cricket of late the Australians have been installed as firm favourites with a victory for the visitors considered marginally more likely than the draw.
Based on recent history you’d have to be very brave to be backing Australia at such a short price. Although they are coming off a win, their recent efforts in this form of the game have been punctuated by batting collapses, which the Pakistani quicks seem well equipped to expose under lights with the pink ball.
Granted there are not too many doubts over the Australian bowling attack, although Nathan Lyon still has a bit to prove, especially against a side well versed in facing quality spin bowling.
The new faces may have brought a fresh approach within the set-up and their record at the Gabba is nothing short of phenomenal, however I simply cannot have enough faith in the hosts to be taking them at such skinny odds.
The visitors themselves don’t exactly inspire confidence, coming off three straight losses (including one to the lowly West Indies), while their record in Australia is abominable. However over a more prolonged period they have established themselves as one of the better teams on foreign soil and have the adaptability within their batting unit to adjust to difficult conditions.
Moreover their pace attack contains plenty of potency and, provided he’s fit, in Yasir Shah they have one of the best spinners in world cricket. Their squad contains an ideal blend of hardened veterans such as Misbah and Younis, alongside promising youth such as Azam and Amir so their price is certainly of interest.
On face value you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the draw with previous day-night tests in Australia failing to go the full distance, while Australia have gone 12 tests and Pakistan 11 since they each recorded a stalemate. However both sides have committed to unearthing a new found resolve and while there remains serious question marks over whether either can execute such a game plan, both teams contain batsmen at the top of the order who are geared to survival so it may not be the worst idea to keep the draw onside.
So with Australia looking too short, Pakistan possibly a tad big and the draw at a price we don’t want to oppose my first move will be to lay the home side as I simply cannot believe they win this match as often as the market suggests. However I will look to trade out given the visitors’ poor recent form and awful record down under, coupled with the fact that the Aussies have that incredible unbeaten streak at the Gabba.
LAY-TO-BACK – Australia at 1.47 or better for 2 units (trade out at 3.00 or better).