It is unusual that the lead-up to the Pakistan series for Australia has been relatively quiet, especially considering their eventful year. This is highlighted by Geoff Lemon.
If you’re someone who only pays attention to Australian cricket during the home summer, you may have noticed that the lead-up to this Test season seems relatively quiet. The season is starting late in December, Western Australian cricket officials are openly concerned about attendance numbers, and the media is focused on retired fast bowler Mitchell Johnson’s criticisms of his former teammates – none of which seems to be building excitement for the upcoming series against Pakistan.
If you’ve been keeping up with the team’s performances on the road, you may feel just as tired as the players. The past year has been a monumental one. Four Test matches in India, six in England, reclaiming the Ashes and earning a World Test Championship title. And then straight into nearly two months of the fifty-over World Cup, ultimately winning with a similar group of players.
Nine out of the eleven players expected to play in the Perth Test were also part of the World Cup trip, with only opener Usman Khawaja and spinner Nathan Lyon not included. They now have a limited amount of time to switch their focus to a different task that may not have the same level of emotional intensity. While this may be viewed as a disadvantage, players can only get themselves pumped up so many times. It could actually be beneficial for them to have less hype surrounding the match, especially since their opponent lacks notable star players and strong attacking abilities.
The teams from Pakistan have achieved victory in only four Test matches in Australia. These wins occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Sarfraz Nawaz and Imran Khan dismantled some average teams. Another win was recorded in 1995 with Mushtaq Ahmed’s impressive spinning in Sydney, alongside the pace of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. However, Pakistan has never won more than one match per tour, never won a series, and the most recent win was during the time when Paul Keating was serving as prime minister.
The current Pakistani team has one exceptional bowler, Shaheen Shah Afridi, but lacks depth in this area. Naseem Shah, who is of the same caliber, has been out due to injury since before the World Cup. Haris Rauf, the next fastest bowler, has chosen to play in the Big Bash instead. Hasan Ali has had inconsistent performances and has not been a consistent member of the team. Khurram Shahzad has not yet played a Test match, while Mir Hamza has only played three.
Unfortunately, Pakistan only had one warmup match in Canberra against the Prime Minister’s XI, which resulted in the touring bowlers bowling a lot of overs and causing a knee injury for Abrar Ahmed. Ahmed, known for his aggressive leg-spin bowling, has recently been a standout player. Without him, Pakistan’s spin options are limited to finger-spinners Noman Ali and Sajid Khan, who both struggled to have an impact when Australia played on Pakistan’s flat pitches in 2022.
The new captain will have a lot of responsibility, as the previous captain was forced to step down. Babar Azam, Pakistan’s top batsman, remains on the team but was unable to continue as the leader in any format after the team’s failure in the World Cup. Shan Masood has taken over as captain, known for his graceful batting style and strong character, but his Test record has not fully met expectations. Regardless of the playing conditions, his double century in the warmup match will likely boost his confidence.
In Australia, the selection process is often a matter of choosing the same group and not making changes. Patrick Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and the returning Nathan Lyon will be the bowlers, just like they were in the first Gabba Ashes Test in 2017. This group of bowlers has played together more than any other quartet, and this will be their 24th time competing together.
Alex Carey will be responsible for the group playing as wicket-keeper and will aim to regain confidence in his batting skills after being replaced during the World Cup. The usual batting lineup will then most likely follow: Usman Khawaja opening with David Warner, who is soon to retire, Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith engaging in lively communication in the middle, and Travis Head given the freedom to attack from the fifth spot.
Mitchell Marsh has solidified his position at number six due to his batting skills, but as a bowler, he lacks the versatility of fellow all-rounder Cameron Green. This is the only change that has occurred since the early Ashes matches.
Assuming no injuries occur, this may be the only choice Australia has to make during this series. While individual achievements may garner attention, what is truly necessary is for Pakistan to break from their past and provide more competition than what their roster suggests. If this happens, these matches could be considered as one of the top highlights of 2023.