After two one-sided T20I series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the opening Test of Australia’s home season promises much. Fingers crossed it delivers. Australia are looking to build on after retaining the Ashes in a drawn series while for Pakistan, it is their first assignment of the World Test Championship – in a country where they have never won a series and have not won a Test since 1995.
With that record, it’s tempting to suggest it should be a walkover for the home side – and it may yet turn out that way – but it’s the more competitive possibilities that are mouthwatering. Pakistan have brought three teenage quicks, with 16-year-old Naseem Shah set to debut on Thursday, and there has been no shortage of talking them up. The batting also looks strong with new captain Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq having good personal memories of the last tour here in 2016-17 and Babar Azam appearing primed to kick on his Test career.
From Australia’s point of view, it’s a summer with most things back to normal compared to the fraught atmosphere of 12 months ago. Steven Smith and David Warner are back, one looking to continue Bradman-esque form and the other hoping to re-establish his Test credentials having been dominated by Stuart Broad in England.
However, it has not been a seamless build-up for Australia. The bat-off in Perth turned into more of a collapse-off, the end result is Cameron Bancroft – with a first-class average of 11 this season – is back in the Test squad. Then there was James Pattinson and his obscene language meaning he is out of this match. But quick bowlers is one thing Australia are not short of. In home conditions, the trio of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc could be the deciding factor.
It is an important match for the ground itself, too, with the Gabba coming under increasing pressure for its status as one of the premier Test venues in the country. It has been guaranteed the opening Test of the 2021-22 Ashes but didn’t host India last year and it is yet to be confirmed if it will host a Test next year. There is an investment on the way, but there will be interest in the crowd figures over the next few days.
Australia LWLDW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
David Warner had an Ashes series to forget – 95 runs in ten innings – but there was never really any doubt that he would retain his place in the side. However, that rope cannot last forever (although the last thing the Australia selectors need at the moment is to find another opening batsman). Warner started the series with a Sheffield Shield century at the Gabba which bodes well and his T20I form was prolific. He enjoys batting in Brisbane and, 21 months after his last Test on home soil, it will be fascinating to see whether he can throw off the shackles.
Babar Azam struggled on the 2016-17 tour with 68 runs in six innings but two years on, he returns to Australia carrying the expectation of a batsman on the cusp of greatness. The limited-overs game has gone supremely well, and he showed his class in the T20Is, and now it is time he takes his game up a level in Test cricket and lifts his current average of 35.28. The hundred against Australia A was full of his best shots and promises much for the next couple of weeks.
Pakistan haven’t won a Test in Australia since 1995 ESPNcricinfo Ltd
It was pretty simple for Australia after the loss of Pattinson. Michael Neser will hope his chance comes with the pink ball.
Australia 1 David Warner, 2 Joe Burns, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Matthew Wade, 7 Tim Paine (capt & wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Josh Hazlewood
Iftikhar Ahmed could slot in at No. 6 with the final decision in the pace attack likely to come down to Mohammad Abaas or Imran Khan, the latter took a five-wicket haul against Australia A.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Shan Masood, 2 Azhar Ali (capt), 3 Haris Sohail, 4 Babar Azam, 5 Asad Shafiq, 6 Iftikhar Ahmed, 7 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 8 Yasir Shah, 9 Shaheen Afridi, 10 Mohammad Abbas, 11 Naseem Shah
Pitch and conditions
The Gabba is back in its traditional slot of hosting the opening Test of the season – after being pushed down the pecking order last season – and it should be a typical surface which is one of the better ones for Test cricket in the world: pace and carry for quicks, trueness the batsmen can trust and maybe some spin if the game goes deep. There was a tinge of green on match-eve, but that was enhanced by rolling in grass clippings. “I had never heard it described like this before from the curator,” Justin Langer said. “He said that ‘today we’ve got the makeup on’ and I think he meant grass clippings, and tomorrow it will probably look a bit greener than it does today. So a fascinating art and science to producing these great wickets.” The weather is set fair with temperatures in the high 20s throughout.
Stats and Trivia
Australia have not lost at the Gabba since 1988.
On the 2016-17 tour, Pakistan came within 40 runs of chasing down 490 as Shafiq scored a fourth-innings 137.
Smith needs 27 runs for 7000 in Test cricket – he has six innings in hand to break Wally Hammond’s record for the fastest to the mark.
“We are very respectful of the Pakistan team. I watched them bat at Optus Stadium last week and they have some very technically correct batsman. I’m not going to single out one; they are a very good batting side.”
Australia coach Justin Langer
“We have come here with a lot of confidence. We have the talent and potential to do well here. We have done well in patches in previous series but we come with a few fresh faces and we are very confident we have huge potential to beat Australia. To do that we have to keep believing, and play with no fear.”
Pakistan captain Azhar Ali