KARACHI (Cricinfo): Shall we try that again? To be blunt, there were not too many redeeming qualities from the opening Test of this much-anticipated series with a docile surface – which has since been deemed ‘below average’ by the ICC – rendering it something of a non-event. Now, all eyes are on the 22 yards that will be produced at the National Stadium in Karachi, with the hope that it will be a more balanced and enticing contest.
However, if the draw in Rawalpindi was being scored, Pakistan would have taken the points. Three of their batters hit centuries – Imam-ul-Haq twice – while the bowling attack found a way to take 10 wickets in the first innings. Nauman Ali preyed on Australia’s patience while Shaheen Shah Afridi was the standout quick of the match and deserved more than two wickets.
Still, with the post-match admission from the PCB chairman Ramiz Raja that the stultifying surface was largely a tactic so as not to play into the hands of Australia’s quicks, Pakistan do need to show that they are brave enough to take the game to them in Karachi unless they want a single-match decider in Lahore.
From Australia’s point of view, they may see the opening Test as a warm-up they did not get on this tour with all the bowlers having got miles in the legs and most of the batters spending reasonable time at the crease. However, they need to be cautious that not converting starts into three figures does not become a habit.
No two ways about it, Australia’s bowlers toiled even if much of the last day was going through the motions. A single wicket for a fast bowler and just three overall (the other being a run out) is slim pickings regardless of the pitch. But this next game has been given another element of intrigue with Mitchell Swepson finally handed a Test debut.
Hasan Ali is expected to come back into Pakistan’s line-up after missing the opening match with an abductor strain. It would mean the reunion of the pairing with Shaheen; the duo has claimed 88 Test wickets during 2021, of which Hasan took 41 at 16.07 in just eight outings. Hasan is a skiddy quick bowler who has not faced Australia before in Tests, so it will be a new challenge for the top order.
After a long wait, Mitchell Swepson will make his Test debut. “I think it’s quite special that someone like Mitchell Swepson is going to debut tomorrow as a legspinner who grew up trying to replicate Warnie,” Pat Cummins said at the end of what has been an emotional week for the game.
The last specialist legspinner to debut for Australia was Bryce McGain 2009, or Steven Smith in 2010 if you consider his response on social media. Swepson will hope for a longer stay than McGain’s lone outing; Smith will likely be stood at slip; his career having gone in another direction.
Faheem Ashraf’s negative Covid test the day after he was positive is a huge boost for Pakistan, and it also means they will be able to balance their side with a seam-bowling allrounder at No. 7. The other change that is likely to happen is Hasan replacing Naseem Shah.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Abdullah Shafique, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Babar Azam (capt), 5 Fawad Alam, 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Faheem Ashraf, 8 Nauman Ali, 9 Sajid Khan, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Cummins confirmed Australia’s XI with Swepson handed a debut and that he is replacing Josh Hazlewood. This means Mitchell Starc’s left-arm angle is retained.
Australia 1 David Warner, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Pat Cummins (capt), 10 Mitchell Swepson, 11 Nathan Lyon
Pitch and conditions
Surely, this one won’t be as flat? Both captains expected the wicket to be of more help for the spinners as the match developed, while Cummins thought reverse swing could be a factor, perhaps, from quite early in the contest given the well-worn square. There won’t be any problems with the weather this time, it’s forecast to be warm and sunny throughout.
Stats and trivia
Fawad Alam, who did not bat or bowl in Rawalpindi, and dropped a catch, needs 47 runs to reach 1000 in Tests
Australia have lost five of their eight Tests in Karachi
Nathan Lyon now averages 65.18 against Pakistan away from home (four games in UAE, one in Pakistan). His next highest overseas average is 39.75 in South Africa.