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[Cricket] Australia And Pakistan In The UAE 2018 – Curtain Raiser

Seems an eternity since the Australian Test cricket team was embroiled in arguably the most controversial scandal in its long and prestigious history – the ball tampering incident in South Africa. The team, currently touring the United Arab Emirates will play two Tests and three Twenty20 International (T20I) matches against Pakistan in what will be their first Test series since the debacle. Ahead of the Test series, the Aussies faced a Pakistan A side in a four-day practice match and in spite of Jon Holland’s heroic efforts (5/79) on the final day, Pakistan A clung onto a tense draw at the ICC Academy in Dubai on Tuesday (October 2nd).

Series Timeline
– In February 2018, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) looked at the possibility of hosting the series and New Zealand’s tour to the UAE in Malaysia instead of the UAE, due to domestic Twenty20 fixture congestion in Sharjah
– In May 2018, the PCB invited Australia to play the fixtures in Pakistan, but Cricket Australia said it would not allow matches to be moved there
– In June 2018, the PCB and the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) agreed to play Pakistan’s future matches in the UAE
– In September 2018, in a first, both Mitchell Marsh and Josh Hazlewood were appointed joint-Test vice-captains of the Australian cricket team

Full Schedule
Test Series
First Test: Sunday October 07th to Thursday October 11th
Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai – 11:30am
Second Test: Tuesday October 16th to Saturday October 20th
Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi – 11:30am

T20I Series
First T20I: Wednesday October 24th
Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi – 09:30pm
Second T20I: Friday October 26th
Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai – 09:30pm
Third T20I: Sunday October 28th
Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai – 9:30pm

Pakistan have won a good number of limited-overs matches in the last 15 months but featured in only as many as five Test matches. And, after the Asia Cup debacle, will be hoping to bounce back with some good performances against the Aussies in the two-match Test series. The Pakistani team will be a similar one to the team that dismantled Australia in both Tests when they last toured the UAE back in November 2014. Pakistan won the first Test by 221 runs before claiming the second by 356 runs. Azhar Ali complied 292 runs over the two Tests back in 2014 and will once again lead the Pakistani batting line-up while their bowling attack will be spin dominant with leg spinner Yasir Shah hoping to put fear through the Aussies once again. Shah picked up 12 wickets that series and will lead the home team’s bowling attack along with spinner Shadab Khan and quicks Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Abbas.

The big news out of the Pakistan camp though is that Mohammad Hafeez has earned a late inclusion in the Test squad – the veteran all-rounder, who bats at the top of the order and offers an off-spin option, hasn’t played a Test match for over two years as he seemed to fall out of favour with the selectors. Hafeez, who will be 38 years old this month, gets his opportunity after serving a suspension for his bowling action and his right-hand off-spin will be a key fixture in the bowling options against an Australian team with plenty of left-handers. He will also bolster a very young – and slightly inexperienced – top-order batting lineup as he joins the ranks of uncapped Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq (who has only played three Tests) and regular opener Azhar Ali. There came a point when it appeared his career at the international stage was over after being named in the squad for the bilateral series against Zimbabwe but not playing any matches, and being excluded from the recently concluded disastrous Asia Cup entirely. He has been at odds with Mickey Arthur, the Pakistan head coach, for a while now after it became apparent that the coach didn’t consider him a part of his future plans.

The Australian team will be without both David Warner and Steve Smith for the first time in more than five years and will be led by Tasmanian wicketkeeper Tim Paine who was elevated to captaincy due to the suspensions. He leads a relatively new look team to the UAE but one that’s not without experience. Former first choice opener Matt Renshaw suffered a knock to the head while fielding in the warm-up match against Pakistan A, and was forced to sit out the remainder of the match. With a history of concussion, the Aussies will wait until the last moment to decide if he’s fit to claim one of the opening spots. The other opening berth will be given to Victorian Aaron Finch, who despite having plenty of international experience, will be making his debut in the baggy green. There will be plenty of experience in the middle order of the Aussie line-up as Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Mitch Marsh will get the first chance to impress this weekend. They will be joined by Travis Head who will be another debutant after impressive with some runs and handy overs in the lead-up match.

Mitchell Starc will lead a relatively undermanned bowling unit which appears likely to include a third debutant in Michael Neser. He showed some good form recently and appears set to get the nod ahead of recalled paceman Peter Siddle, who hasn’t played a Test since November of 2016. Nathan Lyon will take up his place as the frontline Aussie spinner and hope to have an impressive outing in the UAE while the final bowling spot appears to be going to fellow tweaker Jon Holland who picked up five wickets in the second innings of the warm-up match. The bowling of Mitch Marsh could definitely allow the Aussies to play two spinners as the UAE pitches are known to favour the slower bowlers.

With the series, the Aussies will be looking to improve their recent record in the Asian continent in the longer format.

Squads
Pakistan Test Squad: Sarfraz Ahmed(c), Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan, Bilal Asif, Mohammad Abbas , Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz, Faheem Ashraf, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Hafeez
Australia Test Squad: Tim Paine(c), Ashton Agar, Brendan Doggett, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Michael Neser, Matt Renshaw, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc

All the key stats and numbers ahead of the Test Series
1 – Pakistan has won only one of the nine Test series they played against Australia since the start of 1995. Pakistan won the 2014 two-match Test series played in UAE while Australia won seven of the remaining eight. Another series hosted by England in 2010 ended in a draw
17.69 – Mohammad Abbas has taken 42 wickets in eight Test matches at an average of 17.69 in his career thus far. Since his Test debut in April 2017, no player has taken 20+ wickets at a better bowling average in this format
19 – Each of the 19 Test matches between Pakistan and Australia since the start of 1999 has produced a result. Australia won 16 of them while Pakistan won only three Tests in this span. Two of Pakistan’s three wins came in the 2014 series in UAE while the other being in the 2010 Leeds Test
66 – Nathan Lyon has a bowling average of 66 against Pakistan in this format. The off-spinner claimed 14 wickets against them in five Tests at a strike-rate of 105.8
69.75 – Azhar Ali’s batting average in Test cricket against Australia. The Pakistan batsman scored 837 runs in seven Tests against the Aussies with three centuries and four fifties
375 – Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed scored 375 runs in six Test matches against Australia. Sarfraz has a batting average of 53.57 against the Aussies. In the 11 innings against them, Sarfraz scored a century and two fifties
2016 – Last time Mohammad Hafeez featured in a Test match was way back in 2016. His last Test was against England in August 2016 which was also his 50th Test match
4957 – Aaron Finch has scored 4957 runs in International cricket but is yet to feature in a Test match. Finch featured in 135 Internationals for Australia and scored 13 centuries including two 150+ knocks in the T20I format

While Australia enjoys a better overall record in Tests, both the sides are even-steven when it comes to playing in the United Arab Emirates. Australia are ranked 3rd in the ICC team rankings while Pakistan find themselves in the 7th spot. In the T20s Pakistan would start as favourites being the No. 1 ranked side in the world while Australia is ranked 3rd in this format as well. But given Pakistan’s familiarity with the conditions and the harsh weather in Dubai, Australians would have to play out of their skins. 

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