Azhar Ali's Test captaincy debut faces trial by fire as Pakistan begin their World Test Championship campaign against Australia on November 21 at the Gabba, Brisbane. Australia had a tough summer as they played a 2-2 draw in the Ashes 2019 and will be looking to get some points in their favour in home conditions.
The revamped Pakistan side under the wings of new coach Misbah-ul-Haq were outclassed in the three-T20I series. They will back themselves in the longest format of the game with in-form players in the side to break the jinx and win their first-ever Test series on Australian soil.
"Our previous record in Australia won't put us under pressure," Ali said.
"If anything, it'll be an opportunity and motivation to win because whatever we couldn't achieve in the past, we can do now. It's a young and hungry team and it means business. This team wants to take the challenge. We want to give our best, play good cricket and think about winning," he added.
#1 Pakistan have not won a single Test in Australia since November 30, 1995. Pakistan won their last Test on Australian soil under Wasim Akram's captaincy. If Pakistan manage to pull off a win, it will be their first in almost 24 years.
#2 Ali needs 62 more runs to become the sixth Pakistan batsman to score 1,000 or more runs against Australia. The 34-year-old also has a chance to become the fastest to do so. The list is headed by Javed Miandad (1,797 runs) followed by Zaheer Abbas (1,411 runs), Younis Khan (1,148 runs), Saleem Malik (1,106 runs) and Ijaz Ahmed (1,085 runs)
#3 Steve Smith has been in sublime form of late. Smith has a chance to become seventh Australian player to score 1,000 or more runs against Pakistan in Test cricket. However, Smith needs 275 runs to reach the milestone whereas Ali needs just 62 more runs to do so.
— Nine News Adelaide (@9NewsAdel) November 19, 2019
Visitors' recent form
Asad Shafiq impressed everyone with two centuries in the two warm-up games ahead of the Test series against Australia A and Cricket Australia XI respectively.
The 16-year-old fast bowler Naseem Shah made headlines for his raw pace in the warm-up matches.
"The best thing about Naseem Shah is the control he has on his bowling," head coach Misbah-ul-Haq told cricket.com.au.
"He has a very good bowling action and knows which deliveries to bowl. He can bowl with a very good control. He knows his stuff and bowled really well in the first-class matches he played this season.
🔥 Smoke! 🔥
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) November 13, 2019
"He's bowled well here too and is the standout bowler for us. The way he's been bowling, he can be a match-winner for us," he added.
However, Shah did not take many wickets in these games. Imran Khan picked a fifer against Australia including the wickets of Joe Burns, Will Pucovski, Alex Carey and Michael Neser.
Pakistan's Babar Azam looked in good touch with a knock of 157. Shan Masood played well too with two half-centuries. Masood is expected to open the innings for Pakistan in Brisbane Test.
Babar Azam and That sound of leather on willow. So soothing. pic.twitter.com/0BxdYYuyVt
— Mazher Arshad (@MazherArshad) November 11, 2019
Pakistan are expected to go into the fixture with at least three fast bowlers along with leg-spinner Yasir Shah. Mohammad Abbas and Imran Khan become the automatic picks. There can be a toss-up between Mohammad Musa, Naseem and Shaheen Afridi until and unless Pakistan team management decides to go with four seamers.
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) November 19, 2019
Batting woes for hosts
Australian batting lineup heavily relies on World's No.1 Test batsman Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne. The hosts will find themselves in a whole lot of trouble if both the batsmen fail to score big.
Opener David Warner had a horrific Ashes 2019 scoring just 95 runs from 10 innings. Warner found his form in the T20I format but he will be tested against Pakistan seamers with the new ball.
Underperforming Cameron Bancroft has been picked in the side too. Bancroft scored a gritty 49 for Australia A against Pakistan. The right-handed opener has struggled in red-ball cricket as per his recent Sheffield Shield outings for Western Australia.
Tim Paine, Travis Head have struggled in the middle overs as well. On the other hand, Matthew Wade has done reasonably well justified his return to the Test side. Coach Justin Langer will be hoping the same for Joe Burns, who returns to the side for two-Test series.
Paine was not bothered about the Pakistan seamers' performances on the Perth pitch. "I saw that Pakistan are smelling blood in the water or whatever they said," he told reporters.
Pakistan team training session in Brisbane. pic.twitter.com/Zig1zwdu9J
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) November 18, 2019
"What happened in Perth has got nothing to do with what is going to happen at the Gabba," he added.