Pakistan rely on Yasir Shah to attack Australia line-up in 1st Test
DUBAI (Web Desk) – Pakistan will take on Australia in the first match of the two-Test series at Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai on Sunday.
Pakistan have their own set of conundrums to solve. They are coming off a disappointing campaign in Asia Cup 2018 and while they drew the two-Test series in England before that, they have questions to answer in their bowling line-up. Seam bowler Mohammad Amir has been dropped from the 17-man squad and wrist-spinner Shadab Khan will miss the first Test due to injury.
Captain Sarfraz Ahmed will rely on the leg-spin of Yasir Shah and might consider bringing in off-spinner Bilal Asif to exploit the conditions. Top order batsmen Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez and Babar Azam will be required to be at the top of their game.
Pakistan have played four Tests against Australia in their adopted home in UAE and have been victorious in two matches, losing the other two. Shah, set to play his first Test in a year, will be the key to unravelling Australia’s middle order and how he brings his experience to the fore is likely to determine the outcome of this series.
Sarfraz Ahmed’s captaincy will be tested ahead of this tough challenge and how he chooses and rotates his bowling line-up will be under scrutiny. The disappointment of their Asia Cup campaign is not too far behind, and the burden of expectations will fall on the dynamic shoulders of Pakistan’s leader.
All eyes will be on a new-look Australian side that will don the white flannels for the first time after the ball-tampering debacle in South Africa in March 2018. The visitors will be without the services of banned batsmen Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, as well as seamers Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, who are injured.
Aaron Finch, the Twenty20 International captain, and Travis Head have been drafted into the playing XI for the first Test. Along with the duo, Queensland batsman Marnus Labuschagne will also be handed his first Baggy Green in Dubai, as confirmed by captain Tim Paine in the build-up to the game.
They do, however, have the experience of seasoned bowlers like Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc. Lyon will be key on the slower surfaces of UAE, having returned figures of 8/103 against Pakistan A in a tour match earlier this week. As Starc said, the pacers will be playing a supporting role and then “watch the world’s greatest [spinner] do his thing from the other end”.
Australia have also recalled Peter Siddle and will want him to combine with Starc to generate a formidable pace attack to support Lyon. Their middle order will be held up by the Marsh brothers, Shaun and Mitchell. Mitchell has been in impressive form in the recent past. He was also anointed as joint vice-captain with Hazlewood.
Form will be a concern for Australia going into the match. They are playing international cricket after a three-month break and they lost the last match they played – the final of the Twenty20 tri-series in Zimbabwe – to Pakistan by six wickets.
Yasir Shah (Pakistan): If Shah has a good outing in Dubai, it is likely that the hosts will run away with the game. The leg-spinner wrecked havoc against the same opposition in 2014 and with more experience under his belt, including at the Big Bash League, he will back himself. “It has been really hot in Dubai and I know I will need to bowl a lot of overs, so it was important I was ready for all the challenges,” he has said.
Nathan Lyon (Australia): Lyon, who mastered the art of bowling in Asian conditions in the tours of India and Bangladesh in 2017, will be Australia’s best chance of getting a result from this encounter. His off-spin will be the vital cog to their success not just in Dubai, but through the full tour.
The hot and dry conditions in Dubai are expected to remain during the Test, with the temperature forecast never falling below 36°C through the five days. Spin bowlers might be in play right away, as the pitch at the Dubai International Stadium will be slow and dry from the first day.
Pakistan (from): Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan, Bilal Asif, Mohammad Abbas, Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz, Faheem Ashraf, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Hafeez
Australia: Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Mitch Marsh, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Tim Paine (c), Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Jon Holland.