Pakistan v Australia: Test Match Previews

A new era for Australian cricket starts with an enormous challenge as the Aussies travel to Dubai to take on Pakistan in a two-test series.

After their great escape in Dubai, Australia will be looking for a similarly determined effort against Pakistan in the second test at Abu Dhabi, starting on Tuesday.

Pakistan

Despite controlling the first test from the opening session, the hosts failed to land the killer blow on the final day and thus had to be satisfied with a draw at the Dubai International Stadium. After winning an important toss and electing to bat first, Pakistan wasted little time in flexing their batting muscle via an opening stand of 205 between the patient Imam ul-Haq (76) and veteran Mohammad Hafeez who celebrated his return to the test arena with a brilliant 126.

It was then the turn of left-hander Haris Sohail to get in on the act with his maiden test ton (110) before 80 from middle-order mainstay Asad Shafiq pushed Pakistan to an imposing first innings total of 482. Although Australia started well in reply, reaching 142 for no wicket, debutant off-spinner Bilal Asif triggered an incredible collapse of 10/60, himself finishing with 6/36, to give Pakistan a sizeable first innings lead of 280.

Some solid second innings contributions from Imam (48) and Shafiq (41) allowed the home side to declare their second innings at 6/181, setting Australia the monumental task of chasing down 462 for the win or surviving 140 overs.

Although an Australian win never looked possible, the visitors saw off the requisite overs, finishing eight down despite the best efforts of tireless leg-spinner Yasir Shah (4/114). A fit-again Shadab Khan could come in for contention in Abu Dhabi, although Bilal will be hard to displace after his first innings haul.

Australia

Seldom have a traditionally strong side such as Australia ever celebrated a draw so fervently, however it was undoubtedly a remarkable achievement, especially after Pakistan’s colossal first innings score. The Aussies did at least restrict the hosts’ run rate to under three an over, thanks largely to lion-hearted seamer Peter Siddle who finished with 3/58 from 29 overs.

The new opening pair of Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja then made an astonishing start to Australia’s effort with the bat, Finch scoring 62 on debut, while Khawaja overcame his demons in the sub-continent to stroke 85 as they piled on a record stand, before the alarming collapse ensued.

Left-arm orthodox spinner Jon Holland picked up three wickets in Pakistan’s second innings, however, few pundits gave Australia any hope of salvaging anything from the game when they were left with such an unenviable assignment on the last day-and-a-half of the test.

Step forward Khawaja who played a career-defining innings of 141, batting for almost nine hours to stave off the hosts’ attack. Khawaja was well supported again by Finch (49) as well as debutant Travis Head who made a break-through 72, before captain Tim Paine saw it home with an obdurate 61 off 219 balls, shepherding the tail through expertly after the dismissal of Khawaja.

The result means changes to Australia’s starting XI are less likely, though Ashton Agar could be drafted in for Holland who was relatively expensive throughout the match.

Sheikh Zayed Stadium

Pakistan has only ever lost one test at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, however, it was in their most recent appearance here against Sri Lanka last year. The toss again looks crucial with the side batting first losing just once in ten tests in Abu Dhabi, underpinned by an average first innings total of 506 in the last five tests.

Although they countered him in Dubai, keep an eye on leggie Yasir who averages an impressive 22.62 at this venue from four tests.

Key Stats

  • *Pakistan has lost only four of their past 15 tests in the United Arab Emirates.
  • Pakistan has lost only one of their past seven tests in Asia when batting first.
  • Pakistan has lost only one out of 10 tests at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium.
  • Australia hasn’t won a test in the United Arab Emirates since 2002.
  • Australia has won only two of their past 18 tests in Asia.
  • The side batting first has lost only one out of 10 tests at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium.

The Verdict

After going so close in Dubai, Pakistan retain favouritism for the second test with punters still preferring an Australian win to the draw.

The home side got plenty right in the opening test, firstly taking advantage of a favourable toss with determined and assertive batting, before maintaining patience and discipline with the ball whilst asking plenty of questions of an inexperienced Australian line-up who don’t play a lot of cricket in these conditions.

There’s no reason why Pakistan won’t improve and be even stronger in the second test, which makes it tempting to go in on them again, however given the significant advantage that comes with batting first coupled with evidence that several visiting batsmen can flourish on these pitches, then I will be swerving the hosts for now.

This however does not mean that I will suddenly be backing Australia as whilst their second innings performance with the bat was extraordinary and should give them plenty of confidence, they may also struggle to lift themselves just four days after such a sapping effort in the Dubai heat.

It’s also worth considering that the Aussies were never really in the hunt for a win in the opening test, and while their bravery may suggest they have turned a corner, there is a long history of failure in the sub-continent to consider.

After Pakistan went 22 consecutive tests without a draw, we finally saw one in Dubai, though for long periods it seemed anything else other than a Pakistani win was unlikely. Nevertheless, we must take into account Australia’s second innings resilience and both sides’ determination to not leak runs in the field, which means that we are likely to see the type of attritional cricket that was on display in the first test, so for the moment I don’t wish to oppose the draw.

I don’t think there’s an argument that Pakistan should be favourites here, but what I would bring into question is whether an Australian win is more likely than a draw. As impressive as their second innings riposte was, we cannot forget that first innings capitulation on a pitch that was hardly turning square.

It’s also worth remembering that the Aussie bowlers made very little headway against the stable Pakistani batting unit and therefore I’ll be ignoring the fanfare and opposing the visitors in this one.

Betting Strategy

 LAY – Australia at 4.00 or better for 2 units.

Pakistan

Pakistan will welcome the return to their adopted home of the United Arab Emirates having played five of their past six series’ on foreign soil, winning just two of them against the lowly West Indies and Ireland. Nevertheless they exceeded expectations in their most recent battle away to England, squaring the series after an opening nine-wicket win was cancelled out by an innings defeat at Headingley.

In tough conditions for batsmen Babar Azam stood tall with an unbeaten 68 in the first test before he had to retire hurt with a fractured forearm, subsequently keeping him out of the second test. However question marks remain over who will partner Azhar Ali at the top of the order with veteran Mohammad Hafeez recalled to compete with youngster Imam Ul-Haq and the uncapped Fakhar Zaman.

Paceman Mohammad Abbas was the star with the ball in England, claiming match figures of 8/64 in the opening test at Lord’s, however his new ball partner Mohammad Amir has been omitted in place of veteran Wahab Riaz. In any case the slower bowlers are likely to play a more prominent role in the UAE with Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan and Bilal Asif all jostling for a spot in the final XI.

Australia

With blue-chip batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner suspended, as well as first-choice quicks Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins unavailable, Australia have gone for a mix of youth and experience to try and plug the significant holes that those four have left. At the top of the order, limited-overs specialist Aaron Finch seems certain to earn his first test cap, while Travis Head is another to earn a baggy green after showing his wares in the white ball formats for the national side.

A concussion to obdurate opener Matthew Renshaw may open for the door for another new face with surprise selection Marnus Labuschagne waiting in the wings in a reshuffle that would see Usman Khawaja promoted to the top of the order alongside Finch. As far as the bowling attack is concerned plenty will rest on the shoulders of experienced pair Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon, with Lyon set to be paired by either Jon Holland or Ashton Agar, while Starc looks set to be complemented by Queensland swing bowler Michael Neser who has beaten out stalwart Peter Siddle.

Plenty will be expected of both Shaun and Mitchell Marsh who showed promising touch in the tour game, scoring 94 and 162 respectively, while Lyon also made his mark with eight wickets against a Pakistan A side.

Dubai International Stadium

The Dubai International Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for Pakistan, losing only one of their past five tests there though that loss came in their most recent match against Sri Lanka last October.

Batting first is a significant advantage in Dubai with the side batting first unbeaten in the last five test matches there, no doubt assisted by an average first innings score of 459 over those five matches. Look out for leg-spinner Yasir who has taken an incredible 37 wickets in five matches at this ground at an average of just 25.18.

Key Stats

  • Pakistan have lost only one of their past ten test series’ held in the United Arab Emirates.
  • Pakistan have lost only one of their past five tests at the Dubai International Stadium.
  • Pakistan’s last 22 tests have all produced a result.
  • Australia have won only three of their past 13 tests away from home.
  • Australia have lost 12 of their past 15 tests in Asia.
  • The side batting first is unbeaten in the last five tests at the Dubai International Stadium.

The Verdict

Unsurprisingly the hosts are favourites here with an Australian win still considered more likely than the draw.

Pakistan are notoriously hard to catch, however their performances have generally been reliable in the desert, notwithstanding a surprise loss to Sri Lanka in their most recent series here.

Whilst they have struggled to reach the heights of two years ago when they ascended to the top of the ICC rankings, they retain a host of proven performers such as Azhar, Asad Shafiq, captain Sarfraz Ahmed and Yasir who rarely fail to deliver in these conditions. Although some mystery surrounds the make-up of the hosts’ top-order, perhaps the biggest mystery is why they are not odds-on here.

Any test series in the sub-continent is a tough one for Australia, but the mountain seems even higher without their two most established batsmen and two-thirds of their pace triumvirate. Going back 18 months there were some encouraging signs in their away series defeat to India, however at the forefront of those achievements were Smith as well as all-rounder Glenn Maxwell and spinner Steve O’Keefe who have both been omitted from the touring party.

The subsequent series which was drawn in Bangladesh may act as a better guide and even then that series featured two hundreds from Warner who will not be able to contribute on this occasion.

It’s difficult to see this match ending in a stalemate, though the draw could provide good trading value, especially if the home side bat first and continue that trend of lofty first innings scores at the ground. However Pakistan’s incredible record of not having had a draw in their last 22 tests indicates that we’d want a much bigger price to be siding with the draw from the off.

Overall we cannot overlook the claims of the hosts here. With a more established and proficient side, especially in the conditions, up against a re-arranged outfit missing several of their best players and who traditionally struggle to adapt to the turning ball, we’ll be having a significant investment on Pakistan coming away with a one-nil series lead.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Pakistan to win at 2.10 or bigger for 3 units

 

 



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