Thursday, November 21 2019
Australia v Pakistan
Venue: The Gabba | Start: 11:00am AEST
Australia – Compared to 18 months ago, this is a far more settled Australian lineup with perhaps the best bowling depth in the world. All signs point to them starting the summer right in Brisbane, but there’s still significant questions hanging over an unsettled top six. The uncertainty at the selection table of who to partner David Warner at the top, plus who would be inserted at number five, typified this instability. In the end, the selectors opted for Joe Burns and Travis Head, the latter after young Will Pucovski pulled out of the race with mental health issues. The Aussies haven’t lost at the Gabba since way back in 1988. That’s 30 tests undefeated at a venue that has become a graveyard for foreign sides. They also come into the first test of the summer far better prepared than their opponent. After finishing their Ashes campaign not nearly two months ago, most players have also had solid hit-outs in the Sheffield Shield in the last month. Coach Justin Langer said they’re perhaps better prepared than in any recent season.
“The reason is, we’ve had four or five months of cricket in England, we’ve had Sheffield Shield cricket, the boys have had some T20 cricket, we’ve played some one-day cricket,” he said. “So they’re up and running, which is a real positive coming into the summer and there’s definitely a distinct difference in the feel and preparation of the group.”
Pakistan – By contrast, Pakistan have had a substandard preparation for the series. Their last test match was way back in January, where they were humbled by South Africa. Further, they’ve not got history on their side, either. The tourists have lost each of their last four series on Australian shores 3-0. Perhaps their best chance at success in Brisbane lays with young quicks Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi. The experienced Mohammad Abbas (who took 17 wickets in two tests against Australia last year) and Imran Khan are known quantities. What isn’t, however, is the prodigious 16 and 19-year-olds who could cause serious issues at the top of the order. Australia has shown a weakness to express pace in the last 18 months: to Jofra Archer in the Ashes, Jasprit Bumrah last summer, and Kagiso Rabada earlier last year. Whether the youngsters can fire – which seems a big load to shoulder given their age – could determine whether Pakistan are in with a chance in Brisbane.
Betting Analysis – The pitch should offer some assistance to the bowlers on morning one – the Gabba groundsmen usually keen to leave a tinge of green to kick start the summer. Nevertheless, both sides are more than likely to bat first if given the option. For the individual markets, there’s unlikely to be much value in getting on the indomitable Smith for top runscorer. Therefore David Warner, who looks to have put Ashes disappointment behind him, is the one to look at. Warner averages 87.2 in his last six innings at the Gabba and appears back at home on familiar surfaces. For the bowlers, look to Josh Hazlewood to continue his strong form from both the Ashes and recent Shield rounds. Onto the tourists, and while much of the hype this week has been on Babar Azam, new skipper Azhar Ali is also in good touch and could make inroads at the top of the order. With the ball, 19-year-old gun Shaheen Afridi (198cm) already flexed his bag of tricks earlier this year at the World Cup, and should move the ball away from Australia’s left-handers. Expect him to fire.
Head to Head: Australia
Top Runs Scorer – Aust: David Warner
Most Wickets – Aust: Josh Hazlewood
Top Runs Scorer – Opponent: Azhar Ali
Most Wickets – Opponent: Shaheen Afridi