BRISBANE (ICC) - Key battles which promise to light up the two-match Test series between Australia and Pakistan, beginning 21 November in Brisbane.
1) Mohammad Abbas v David Warner
Warner had an Ashes series to forget in England this year, where he could aggregate only 95 runs in ten innings. He's now bounced back to his fluent best, as he first scored a century in his first game for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield last month, and followed that up with 298 runs from six innings while being dismissed only once across two T20I series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan at home. He has a chance to extend that form against one of his favourite opponents, against whom he's scored 595 runs from nine innings, including three hundreds.
He'll be up against Mohammad Abbas, who had bagged 17 wickets from two Tests when he last played against Australia, in the UAE last year and is currently Pakistan's top-ranked bowler in MRF Tyres ICC Test Bowling Rankings.
Warner's downfall in England was brought about by Stuart Broad, who dismissed him on seven occasions out of ten, allowing the ball to skid through from good length while creating an inward angle from around the stumps.
Abbas has troubled some established left-handers like former England captain Alastair Cook and South Africa opener Dean Elgar with similar lengths in the past, and it won't come as a surprise if he employs those tactics against Warner. The right-arm pacer will relish bowling in Brisbane and Adelaide, where significant amount of assistance is expected for the new-ball bowlers. However, Warner's track record at both the venues can't be overlooked and that builds up for an exciting contest.
2) Yasir Shah v Steve Smith
He was out of action for more than a year, but it didn't take long for Steve Smith to remind everyone of his class, as he aggregated 774 runs from seven innings at a staggering average of 110.57 in his comeback series in England, and regained the top position in the MRF Tyres ICC Test Batting Rankings
, while at it. While his unorthodox technique is often been talked off, bowlers around the world don't seem to have discovered any particular formula to trouble the Australian genius.
However, Yasir Shah is one bowler who's got wood over Smith more than anyone else. The leg-spinner has dismissed the right-hander on six occasions out of nine, including twice during their last head-to-head contest at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2016-17. Smith has been troubled by Rangana Herath, Ravindra Jadeja and Keshav Maharaj in the past – all of whom are left-arm spinners who turn the ball away from him, and Shah's leg-spin just adds a bit of an X-factor.
With Pakistan head coach Misbah-Ul-Haq having already marked the leg-spinner as one of Pakistan's key weapon with the ball, Shah's major challenge would be to get past Smith to give his side a chance. It might seem an uphill task with the latter's current form, but Shah, who has 203 wickets from 35 Tests, certainly possesses the skills to do it.
3) Josh Hazlewood v Babar Azam
Babar Azam led Pakistan's charge with the bat in the T20I series, scoring two fifties from three games. He then backed it up with an unbeaten 157 and 63 in two practice games in Perth and with that sort of form, the right-hander is expected to lead the way for the visitors. His returns in 2018, 616 runs from 14 innings at an average of 56, saw him rise to be Pakistan's top-ranked batsman in Test Batting Rankings
as well, much like he does in the other two formats, but an average of 35.29 from 21 Tests don't make a great reading for a man of his class.
He's been predominantly troubled by right-arm seam bowlers in Test Cricket, who've collectively accounted for 19 of his 35 dismissals, with Josh Hazlewood leading the way with four dismissals from six innings – all of which came during Pakistan's tour in 2016-17. Babar registered three single-digit scores in as many Tests, two of which had come in the final Test in Sydney where he was trapped lbw by Hazlewood in both innings.
Hazlewood has troubled some top quality right-handers like South Africa's Hashim Amla and England captain Joe Root (whom he's accounted for seven times each) with his consistent line and lengths in the past and with the likes of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc operating from the other end, there's little breathing space for batsmen. Azam, though, will take confidence from his recent form, to overcome the Hazlewood threat in the series.
4) Pat Cummins v Azhar Ali
The top-ranked bowler in MRF Tyres ICC Test Bowling Rankings
and the Pakistan skipper, also the most experienced batsman in the line-up, taking on each other with the new-ball, is surely one of the exciting battles to look forward to in the series. Cummins has been in outstanding form since the start of 2018, having bagged 87 wickets from 16 matches in the period. He's yet to play a Test against Pakistan, but his track-record in ODIs – 13 wickets from seven games, and his performance in the T20I series make great reading.
He'll look to replicate that success in red-ball cricket, which remains his strongest suit, and with conditions assisting his type of bowling, especially at the Gabba, where he's taken 14 wickets at an astonishing average of 12.14, the 26-year-old would surely present a stiff challenge to the visitors. In his immediate sight though, would be Azhar Ali, Pakistan's new Test captain, who had put up a show during the 2016-17 tour, aggregating 406 runs from six innings, including a masterful unbeaten double century in Melbourne.
Both Cummins and Azhar are known for showing great patience and perseverance in their respective disciplines, which has been a major contributing factor to their success. A batsman with solid defensive technique up against a tall fast bowler boasting some serious pace and skills form all the necessary ingredients of a perfect Test match battle.