RAWALPINDI: The Green Shirts were off to a good start courtesy Imam-ul-Haq and Abdullah Shafique in the first Test of the three-match series against a formidable Australian side at the Pindi Cricket Stadium Friday.
Opener Imam-ul-Haq scored solid half-century as Pakistan reach 105-1 at lunch on day-one of the Rawalpindi Test.
Both openers, Imam and Abdullah Shafique, provided a solid start as they scored the only seventh-ever century against Australia in Pakistan’s Test history.
Nathan Lyon claimed the only wicket of the session for Australia.
Shafique was unlucky as he fell short just six runs shy from the half-century. He scored 44 with the help of three boundaries and a six.
Meanwhile, Imam was unbeaten on 57 at lunch.
After skipper Babar Azam opted to bat first, the duo gave a 105-run opening stand. But Shafique fell prey to Nathan Lyon because of a misjudged shot, while Pat Cummins took a great catch to dismiss him at 44.
“The pitch looks nice so we’ll try to put runs on the board,” Babar said, predicting spinners would play a key role in the first match of the three-Test series.
Having lost fast bowler Hasan Ali and seam-bowling all-rounder Faheem Ashraf to injuries, Pakistan added Naseem Shah to their pace attack spearheaded by Shaheen Afridi.
Nathan Lyon was the lone specialist spinner complementing Australia’s three-pronged pace attack led by skipper Pat Cummins.
The tourists also retained all-rounder Cameron Green, who was not even born when Australia last toured Pakistan in 1998.
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Straight out of the T20 format, the majority of Pakistan’s top batsmen face a difficult adjustment to Test cricket, a fact that Pakistan captain Babar Azam attempted to downplay during the virtual conference a day before the series began.
“We are professional and aware of the hectic schedule. Some of our batsmen stayed busy training for Test cricket in Karachi and even have trained hard here during the last few days,” Babar Azam had said during a virtual press conference a day earlier.
Babar had said he is confident that Pakistan will pose a tough challenge to Australia.
“On the sidelines of PSL, our leading bowlers were even seen bowling long spells to get ready for the Test series,” he had said.
However, the truth is that the quick transition from the shortest format to the lengthier version, as well as the Australian cricket team’s overall record versus Pakistan, will put Pakistan’s batting line-up to the Test.
The Aussies have so far won 33 out of 66 Tests that both countries have played. The fact that the Australian think-tank was seriously considering fielding a heavy bowling team for the Pindi Stadium shows that they are serious about business.
“We may go in the first Test at the Pindi Stadium with two spinners and three seamers. The playing XI will be announced on Friday morning. We are pretty sure on the final line-up but we want to look at the pitch early in the morning before naming the team,” Aussies skipper Pat Cummins had said during his pre-Test media chat.
There is every likelihood that Australia would go into the Pindi Test with debutant leg-spinner Mitch Swepson rather than pick Aston Agar to accompany Nathan Lyon.
“Swepson is ready for the big game. Agar has also responded well whenever given the opportunity. In this part of the world, leg-spin definitely plays some role,” he had said.
Both teams cancelled their training sessions Wednesday morning because of the rain and wet weather. The weather is expected to be fine and sunny on Friday, with all hopes of a timely start to the series.
Reports from inside the Pakistan camp also say that the think-tank is considering giving Mohammad Wasim Junior a chance to play with Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah.
Wasim, though he represented Pakistan in the shorter version of the game, has yet to get a Test cap. The depleted Pakistan pace attack is missing Haris Rauf (down with COVID-19) and Hasan Ali (ruled out with injury). All-rounder Faheem Ashraf, who usually acts as the third seamer, is also unavailable. Nauman Ali and the team’s hero during the last Test against Bangladesh, Sajid Khan, will be there as potent spin options.
“Going into any series, we never thought about who was missing out. “The team we are carrying is the best, and we are confident that we have the ability to give the powerful Australian team the best competition,” Babar hoped.
Australia’s real asset lies in their fast bowling armory, with captain Cummins leading the pack. In the 38 Tests, he has played so far, Cummins has picked up 185 wickets with an immaculate bowling average of just over 21 runs per wicket. Cummins, Mitchel Starc, Josh Hazelwood, and Nathan Lyon make it a formidable bowling attack.
Both teams are stacked with world-class players and proven Test performers who have made their names across multiple formats around the world.
The two sides have kept a close eye on the Rawalpindi pitch, which has a tradition of being a sporting one. The last Test played at the venue was Pakistan’s 95-run triumph against South Africa almost a year ago.
Since the return of Test cricket to Pakistan in December 2019, this will be the fourth Test at the venue. The 2020 Pakistan-Sri Lanka match ended in a draw.
Pakistan: Abdullah Shafique, Imam-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam (c), Fawad Alam, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Iftikhar Ahmed, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah
Australia: Usman Khawaja, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood