The Ultimate Test

K Shahid previews the first Test between Pakistan and Australia at the Gabba

The Ultimate Test
By the time you read this, the first day of the first Test from the two-match series between Pakistan and Australia would’ve already taken place at the Gabba. And if the history of the past couple of decades is anything to go by, a tilt – at the very least – would already be visible by Friday.

After a mauling in the T20I series, where Pakistan only survived a whitewash thanks to Sydney rain, the national side already has its backs to the wall entering a format in which it has recently struggled, and one wherein it hasn’t managed to make any inroads at all in Australia over the past 24 years.

Azhar Ali

Just to put things into perspective, Pakistan have lost all 14 of their previous Test matches in Australia, with the national team’s last win Down Under coming in 1995.

Among the sides that have been clean swept by the Aussies are the Wasim Akram led side from 1999/2000, which featured one the finest bowling attacks that Pakistan ever put together, and the Misbah-ul-Haq led side from 2016/17, which had won the ICC Test Mace a couple of months back.

And yet there is a case to believe that the current Azhar Ali led side might actually end up being more competitive than its more illustrious predecessors.

Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam

For starters, let’s not forget that the first half of the previous couple of decades featured Australian sides that were among the finest in the history of Test cricket. And where the more recent Australian Test teams haven’t come close to those heights, this current Pakistani Test lineup is a strong squad on paper as well.

The likes of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq have bundles of experience with them. Babar Azam is waiting eagerly to cement himself as a world class batsman in Test cricket after having done so in the limited overs formats. Shan Masood has recently established himself in the Test side, after standing out in South Africa, while Haris Sohail is growing into a middle order mainstay for Pakistan as well.

Naseem Shah

Yasir Shah and Mohammed Abbas are two of the finest practitioners of their skills in world cricket. Shaheen Afridi and the yet to be unleashed Naseem Shah are as exciting prospects is any around the globe in terms of young pace talents. Iftikhar Ahmed might be on the verge of owning the lower middle order for Pakistan in all three formats, with his handy off-break to boot.

Even so, what is also true is that despite recent lows, this Australian side is on the ascendancy. The return of Steven Smith and David Warner – the former more so in the longer format – from their bans has boosted Australia, as evidenced by their retention of the Ashes in England this summer.

Yasir Shah

However, where Pakistan can look to benefit from is the fact that barring Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, none of the Australian batsmen isn’t exactly scoring big. Warner’s return to the side has been especially troublesome, and the Pakistani pacers should look to attack him early and capitalise on his lack of confidence in the Test game.

Pakistan’s selection of pacers would be interesting as well, given how well Imran Khan did against Australia A in the practice match at Perth last week. Naseem Shah, however, appears to be on the verge of a highly anticipated debut.

The Gabba wicket might bring Yasir Shah into the mix on the fourth and fifth day as well. However, Pakistan would need to make sure that they keep themselves competitive during the first couple of days. In fact, the first couple of sessions would set the tune for the entire Test series.