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November 21, 2019

Youngsters in focus as Pakistan aim to end drought in Australia


November 21, 2019

BRISBANE: Pakistan’s ICC World Test Championship campaign begins with a tough assignment first up, as they face a power-packed Australian unit in the first of two-match Test series starting Thursday (today).

Pakistan were decent with the bat when they last toured Australia in 2016-17, but with the bowlers conceding scores of 429, 624-8 declared and 538-8 declared in the first innings of each of the three Tests, they were always left with an uphill task.

This time, leading the charge is a group of young bowlers, who justified their selection by skittling the Australia A side out for a mere 122 in the first warm-up match. Captain Azhar Ali confirmed on the eve of the match that Naseem Shah, the 16-year-old speedster, will make his debut, becoming the youngest male cricketer to play his maiden Test in Australia.

For Australia, the form of their key players and their track record at the venue, where they last lost a Test more than three decades ago, give them an edge over the visitors. David Warner seems back to his fluent best after a disappointing Ashes series in England, and dismissing Steve Smith early continues to be an unsolved mystery.

Their fast-bowling unit, led by Pat Cummins, the top-ranked bowler in the ICC Test Rankings, seems as dangerous as ever, not to forget the guile of Nathan Lyon, the off-spinner.

Their over-reliance on Smith during the Ashes was a worry, and more consistency will be expected from Joe Burns, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Cameron Bancroft and skipper Tim Paine himself.

After a draw in the first of two Tests, the series was set up for a decider in Abu Dhabi. Batting first on a slow surface, Pakistan put up 282 with Fakhar Zaman and skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed contributing 94 each. Mohammad Abbas then picked up five wickets, as Australia were bundled out for a mere 145.

Pakistan consolidated their lead of 137, as Babar Azam (99), Sarfaraz (81), Fakhar (66) and Azhar Ali (64) powered them to 400-9 declared, setting Australia a 538-run target. Abbas did it again with another five-for, skittling the visitors out for 164 in 49.4 overs, to give Pakistan a 373-run win – their highest victory margin against Australia, in terms of runs.

Azhar Ali said his young team had the ability to surprise Australia. “We have come here with a lot of confidence. We have the talent and potential to do well here. We have done well in patches in previous series but we come with a few fresh faces and we are very confident we have huge potential to beat Australia. To do that we have to keep believing, and play with no fear.”

In-form batsman Babar Azam said it would be a good contest. “Our batsmen and bowlers are performing well. Our youngsters are in good form and have bowled well in the practice games. Hopefully, we’ll carry forward the performances into the Tests.”

Australia coach Justin Langer was full of praise for the opponents. “We are very respectful of the Pakistan team. I watched them bat at Optus Stadium last week and they have some very technically correct batsman. I’m not going to single out one; they are a very good batting side.”

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