Pakistan take on Australia in a few hours which will commence a series of paramount significance to the Pakistanis. Firstly, Pakistan has barely played any Test cricket in the past 3 years and this series will provide a change of culture, although it is arguable that Pakistan ought to be well prepared having just played a Test series in New Zealand. Secondly, Australia is still a tough team to beat despite not being invincible anymore. Thirdly, this is a high profile series as Pakistan is playing Australia in Australia. So, let there be no doubts about how crucial this series is from Pakistan’s perspective.
The Australians do use sledging to their advantage and many critics are claiming their main weapon against Pakistan will be sledging. However, is it really Pakistan’s major worry? Batting, as always, seems to be the main worry for Pakistan and the batsmen barely performed up to mark against New Zealand. In fact, had it not been for Mohammad Asif, Pakistan could have been beaten comprehensively in all the Tests.
Mitchell Johnson and Sidde both feature in the top 25
Test bowlers in the world, and although this statement is perhaps not as impressive as one might consider it to be, Australia also have Bollinger who has 15 wickets in 3 Tests so far. He is a left armer which means the change of angle might unnerve Pakistan to some degree. Even though Australia does not have Clark and Lee to complement Johnson, Siddle and Bollinger can take Pakistani wickets. Yousuf has commented that Pakistanis will need to show patience, and he cannot be more right. It seems futile stating the obvious given that Pakistani openers never learn from their mistakes, but both Butt and Farhat will have to wait until the new ball stops swinging before going for their shots.
Due to politics Faisal Iqbal, Malik and Misbah will definitely get more chances to play than Fawad Alam, but Pakistan must not persist with these players if they make mistakes in the first Test. It is thought Malik will not play in the first Test since he is out of form and since Faisal Iqbal made a 50 in his last Test, but Yousuf has commented recently that he has high hopes with Malik and Misbah. In fact, if any of Butt, Farhat, Iqbal, Malik or Misbah make their usual mistakes, Alam must replace that player in the second Test. It goes without saying that neither Malik nor Misbah deserve to be playing for Pakistan. One can say the same for Faisal Iqbal, but he has been in and out for many years unlike Malik and Misbah who have been selected in pretty much all Test, ODI and T20 squads despite being mediocre players.
Pakistan is counting on the batting form of the Akmal brothers and Yousuf to counter the Australian bowling attack. If Umer Akmal can score runs in this series, it will be another feather in his cap and he will probably be promoted to a Category A contract. The youngster has shown he can handle pressure and he must not falter at this stage, otherwise critics will start questioning his calibre.
Bowling wise, Pakistan has some fascinating options to ponder. The pace attack consists of
Aamer, Asif, Gul, Rauf and (now) Sami. There are rumours the Pakistani management might play both Kaneria and Ajmal, and there are also rumours that Kaneria has injured his finger which means he might not play. In the first Test I believe Pakistan should go for the attacking option and play Asif, Aamer and Gul. Kaneria should be the spin option. It is always best to go in the first Test using the best XI on paper. If there is need for a 5th bowling option, Yousuf can opt for Butt, Farhat or Alam- depending on who is playing.
The rest of the line up should be as follows: Butt, Farhat, Yousuf, Iqbal/Alam, Umer Akmal, Misbah/Alam, Kamran Akmal…
The toss of course plays a major part; if the pitch shows some life and Ponting decides to bowl first, then Pakistan will probably lose this Boxing Day test. If Yousuf wins however, he should bowl first- simply because Pakistanis are inexperienced in Australia and he is the only world class batsman in the team. In any event, Asif, Aamer and Gul in full slow can do damage to the Australians if the pitch is offering seam and swing. Once the ball stops swining, Kaneria can attack the middle or lower order batsmen. This is of course wishful thinking- it all depends on how the pitch is like and how the players perform on the day itself. Rest assured, though, that sledging is not Pakistan’s main worry and the batsmen need to support the bowlers and play intelligently. Otherwise, this series will end as yet another nightmare for Pakistan cricket fans, and Pakistan will see the frightening possibility of being compared with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in Tests.