A day-night Test for Brisbane has been unveiled in order to draw greater crowds to the Gabba, but the combination of the pink ball, floodlights and the ground’s often lively pitch will make for a high octane contest between two sides well stocked with speed. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have both prospered here in the past, the latter notably putting on a sublime display on debut against India to help deliver a victory in Steven Smith’s first match as Australian captain. Starc, meanwhile, has been shifting up through the gears since he was rushed back from injury against South Africa, and appears to be finding his very best rhythm in time for Brisbane.
Pakistan, of course, have a surfeit of pacemen capable of making the ball bend, in Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir a left-arm combination duo capable of reducing any batting order to ruins. Dangerous, too, will be the wristspin of Yasir Shah, on a ground Shane Warne has always professed to love, though Australia’s batsmen have historically attacked visiting spin bowlers with significant success in Brisbane – just ask Graeme Swann. Critical to the visitors’ chances of unseating the Australians at a ground they feel more at home at than any other will be the holding of catches – scores went down during the recent series loss in New Zealand, with the fielding coach Steve Rixon trying to rectify that in Australia.
While the hosts have plenty of advantages, not least greater experience against the pink ball, it should not be forgotten that Australia’s confidence is only in the very early stages of restoration, following five consecutive defeats that culminated in the Hobart humiliation. Pakistan, by contrast, were humbled across the Tasman but have a far sturdier record behind them earlier in the year – the share of a series in England to briefly claim the world No. 1 ranking was a remarkable achievement. In what shapes to be one of the captain Misbah-ul-Haq’s final series, a victory in Australia would be the sweetest icing on his cake. To start that quest at the Gabba in conditions that will suit his pacemen but challenge his batsmen will turn to be either a blessing or curse
So far this summer, Usman Khawaja has batted with plenty of determination to succeed, cutting down on some of the more flamboyant strokeplay he offered up last season to become a senior member of the Australian top order. His sound judgment of line will be critical in Brisbane, a ground he knows well as captain of Queensland. It will be up to him, Matt Renshaw and David Warner to ward off Pakistan’s considerable new ball threat.
Before England, before the no-ball, before the prison sentence and the exile from the game, Mohammad Amir came to Australia as a teenager on Pakistan’s last Test series visit and impressed all with his speed, swing and stamina. Older and wiser, he still has the ability to swing the ball at high pace, and has the potential to cause chaos in the Australian batting order if he gets it right – and if Pakistan are able to hold onto their catches.
Australia are set to take an unchanged team into the Gabba Test following their victory, also with the pink ball, over South Africa in Adelaide.
Australia (probable) 1 Matt Renshaw, 2 David Warner, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 Peter Handscomb, 6 Nic Maddinson, 7 Matthew Wade (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Josh Hazlewood, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Jackson Bird
Misbah-ul-Haq and Yasir Shah were both missing from Pakistan’s previous Test XI against New Zealand, but both are expected to resume their customary positions in Brisbane.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Sami Aslam, 2 Azhar Ali, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Wahab Riaz, 9 Yasir Shah, 10 Mohammad Amir, 11 Rahat Ali