Australia and Pakistan clash in what promises to be a thrilling Test series down under. Both sides have topped the ICC Test Rankings in recent months, so we should be in for a quality three-match series.
The first match will be played at the Gabba where Australia haven’t lost a Test since 1988. Can the visitors spring an upset or will the Aussies maintain the status quo out in Brisbane? Let’s take a look:
Australia vs Pakistan | Thu 15 December - Mon 19 December | The Gabba, Brisbane
To Win Match
Australia 36/100 | Draw 9/2 | Pakistan 5/1
Darren Lehmann and the Australian selectors appear to have rewarded the men that claimed victory in the final Test against the South Africans by naming an unchanged squad for the first Test against Pakistan.
With Shaun Marsh still out with a broken finger, Matt Renshaw, Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson will all likely be part of the XI selected for the first Test against Pakistan. Marsh is expected to slot back into the middle order when he returns later in the series.
The biggest worry for Lehmann heading into this Test will be the recent lack of runs from Renshaw and Handscomb in the Sheffield Shield. The former managed scores of 38 and 2 for Queensland against Western Australia last week while the latter could only muster 17 and 30 for Victoria against Tasmania.
These guys were picked off the back of their performances in First Class cricket and may in danger of losing their place in the side if they fail to perform at the Gabba later this week.
On the other side of the coin, Maddinson grabbed 80 and 0 for New South Wales’s in a defeat to South Australia while Usman Khawaja was immense for Queensland as they went down against Western Australia, claiming 157 and 61 in his two innings.
While there are a few question marks surrounding the Australian batting line-up, their bowling attack is as strong as it could possibly be at the moment. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood should have the measure of the Pakistani batsmen while Jackson Bird and Nathan Lyon will provide support to the two frontline seamers. Warner and Smith could also be required to fill a few gaps with ball in hand.
This match is Australia’s to lose. Their quicks should have very little issue dealing with the visiting batsmen while one of Warner, Smith or Khawaja will be tasked with anchoring the innings and kicking on with a big score.
Micky Arthur will be heavily reliant on the more experienced players to guide some of the younger guys through what promises to be an incredibly difficult series. The wicket at the Gabba should be lightening quick and should offer plenty of bounce to the likes of Starc and Hazlewood.
The visitors’ top order will do well to negate the new ball without losing too many wickets. Pakistan haven’t played on traditionally quick, bouncy wickets since their tour of South Africa during the 2012/13 season. And it’s no secret that they don’t particularly like these conditions. You have to go back to 1978/79 for the last time the Asians last managed to avoid series defeat in Australia, when they drew a two-match series 1-1.
There’s going to be massive pressure on the likes of Sami Aslam, Azhar Ali and Babar Azam at the top of the order. They never exactly covered themselves in glory in the warm-up game either, with only Ali managing a score above 25 as he reached 80 in the second innings.
Whether or not the Pakistanis are able to post competitive scores or not remains to be seen. Much will come down to the performances of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. The middle order stalwarts are in the twilight of their respective careers but remain the visitors’ only real world-class batsmen.
While there are question marks around the batting, Pakistan’s bowling attack looks well equipped to deal with Australian conditions. Wahab Riaz will relish bowling on quicker, bouncier decks while Mohammad Amir will look to repeat the performance which saw him finish on figures of 5-33 the three-day warm-up match against the CA XI. The Punjab native look to get under the skin of the Aussie top and middle order by getting the pink ball moving around under the lights in Brisbane.
Verdict: Australia 36/100
The Australians should prove too good for this spirited Pakistani side. I just feel that Warner, Smith, Khawaja, Hazlewood and Starc are far too good in home conditions to allow a team from the Sub-Continent to get on top. Back the Aussies confidently at 36/100.
Value Bet: David Warner top score (First Innings) for Australia at 25/10
Warner absolutely loves batting at the Gabba and his numbers show it. In nine Test innings at the ground, he's managed 506 runs at an average of 63.25. With stats like these, 25/10 looks like an absolute gift. Back the Aussie dynamo to dominate the Pakistani attack and top score in Australia’s first innings.
Written by Jason Dewey for @Hollywoodbets.