Mickey Arthur knows all about difficult foreign conditions, for as Australia’s coach in 2013 he was at the helm for a 4-0 series loss in India. Under Darren Lehmann, Australia’s record in Asia has stretched to nine consecutive defeats. But neither is it easy for Asian teams to handle the pace and bounce of Australian pitches, and Arthur’s task over the next month is to help Pakistan turn around their recent form in Australia, where they have lost nine Tests in a row.
Pakistan has not won a Test in Australia since 1995, when legspinner Mushtaq Ahmed was key to them claiming victory at the SCG, although it was a dead rubber after Australia had already secured the series. They have come close, though: when they last visited in 2009-10, Pakistan seemed to have the Sydney Test in their grasp with a 206-run first-innings lead, but let Australia off with a choke of epic proportions.
“For us the key is adapting to conditions, and if we can adapt to conditions quick enough we’ll be fine,” Arthur said. “I constantly remind the players if we can be getting 270, 280, 300, we’re in the game because we’ve got the ability to take 20 wickets. If we can use the new ball particularly well against Australia, we’ll be good. And seven left-handers in their 11 makes our left-armers even more potent.”
That this series begins at the Gabba will only add to the challenge for Pakistan, as Australia has not lost a Test at the venue since 1988. However, both sides enter this game with a sense of the unknown, for it is the Gabba’s first day-night Test. Pakistan’s bowlers destroyed a Cricket Australia XI in a pink-ball warm-up in Cairns last week, but the Pakistan batsmen also found it hard going on a green pitch.
“I thought we played quite well actually,” Arthur said of the Cairns game. “Batting was a little bit of a struggle and there’s no secret we need to get some runs and adapting outside our own conditions is difficult. It’s like Australia playing in the sub-continent.
“So we’re working extremely hard on that. But I was so impressed by the way we bowled. I thought we bowled fantastically well. We fielded very, very well, caught well behind the stumps. So we ticked a lot of boxes which was great.
“It will be interesting the amount of grass on the wicket. After dark it certainly did a bit more in Cairns. [Gabba curator] Kevin Mitchell was up in Cairns and he said the amount of grass left on the wicket was going to be pretty similar to the grass he’ll leave on here. The pink ball does certainly get softer. It swung early conventionally but then it didn’t go reverse that much. It certainly did a little bit more in the last hour which has been the trend and the norm for every day-night Test.”
Pakistan are hopeful that legspinner Yasir Shah will be fit for the Brisbane Test after a back injury kept him out of the Cairns game. Yasir would be encouraged not only by his own pink-ball form – he picked up seven wickets in the day-night Test against West Indies in Dubai – but also the record of spinners at the Gabba, which was Shane Warne’s most productive ground.
“Yasir Shah is coming on nicely. He’s come along really well,” Arthur said. “He bowled six overs the last day in Cairns [in the nets] which was pleasing. It will be good to see him go in the nets today, I saw him in the hotel and he seemed fine … He’s obviously integral to our plans.”
The presence of Yasir should also help with Pakistan’s recent trouble with poor over rates. In their recent Test in Christchurch, the fast bowlers did the bulk of the work and captain Misbah-ul-Haq copped a one-Test suspension due to sloppy over-rates. In the next Test in Hamilton, Pakistan played four quick bowlers, which led to stand-in captain Azhar Ali also being penalised for the team’s slow over-rates.
“Over-rates is an absolute priority for us,” Arthur said. “Our players are giving away all their cash and we’ve had a captain suspended because of it. We’ve just got to be better than that, we have to get through our overs and there’s a constant reminder all the time that we have to get through our overs.”
Pakistan, like Australia, enter this Test having recently been ranked No.1 in the Test rankings, but having slipped out of the top two following some disappointing away results. Pakistan’s series loss in New Zealand and Australia’s thrashing in Sri Lanka and then their loss at home to South Africa means both teams are entering this series searching for form.
“The one thing we are is fairly settled,” Arthur said. “We’re a fairly settled unit. Everybody knows who’s going to play and where they’re going to play and how they’re going to fit in. The only issue is around our quick bowlers and that will be a horses for courses decision. The top seven know exactly where they’re going to bat, and they’ve known that for almost the last year … Whereas Australia probably aren’t as stable as what we are.
“Sometimes that’s dangerous to get a team at that stage because the expectation is so low. But they’re all fine cricketers. Other guys then step up. I think Davey Warner’s in great touch, Usman Khawaja’s in great touch, Hazlewood and Starc are world class. So we’re under no illusions how difficult it’s going to be for us. It’s exactly like Australia going to India. It’s tough, the conditions are totally opposite. But we’re up for it and we’re here to give it our best shot.”