Pakistan take on Australia in their two-Test series as the decided underdogs but will be hoping to upset the odds as they bid to win their first-ever Test in Brisbane. Azhar Ali knows he can write his name in eternity by becoming the first Pakistan captain to win a Test series in Australia but will be under no delusions that the visitors will have to be at their very best in order to achieve that.
Here are the eleven players Pakistan should go with in the first game if they are to have their best chance to make history.
Shan Masood: The left-hander was solid against South Africa and is likely to keep his place in the side. Masood scored two half-centuries on the tour but more importantly looked assured pulling and hooking the extra bounce on offer for Duanne Olivier. His performances elsewhere have
Imam-ul-Haq: Imam hasn’t taken to the Test format in the same manner that he has to the 50-over format but his technique and temperament suggest he might be a better fit for the longest format than he is to limited-overs cricket. He struggled in the series against South Africa and if skipper Azhar Ali fancies himself to open the innings then Imam might find himself out of the side in favour of Haris Sohail.
Azhar Ali: Newly appointed skipper Azhar has been struggling for runs and Pakistan will be hoping the added responsibility can help him regain the form that has made him one of Pakistan’s finest-ever Test batsman. He was the standout performer the last time Pakistan toured Australia — scoring a memorable unbeaten double-century in Melbourne to follow his half-century in Brisbane — and averages 81.2 Down Under.
Babar Azam: Babar seemed heads and shoulders above nearly all his teammates in the T20I format but has underwhelmed so far in his short Test career. The right-hander is now 25 and Pakistan will be looking towards him to have a better outing than he did during Pakistan’s last tour Down Under when he made just 68 runs in three Tests at an average of 11.33. He has played at number six in most of his Tests but his performances in the shorter formats suggest he is being wasted so low down the order — despite currently having his best average at number six.
Iftikhar Ahmed: The right-hander has played only one Test and that too in 2016 but is likely to feature in the Tests after impressing in the T20Is and the warm-up games. The 29-year-old is also a handy off-spinner and claimed 2-6 and 1-21 during the warm-up games. With Yasir Shah moving the ball away from the right-handers, Iftikhar can be especially useful during the latter stages of the game in order to target the rough-patches.
Asad Shafiq: Like skipper Azhar, Asad has failed to step up his game ever since the retirement of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq and the right-hander’s promotion up the order doesn’t seem to have improved his fortunes. His best average is at number six and his ability to create partnerships with tail-enders is unparalleled in the Pakistan side. He is the country’s greatest-ever number six batsman for a reason and promoting him up the order was simply a case of trying to fix something that was never broke.
Mohammad Rizwan: The wicketkeeper is Pakistan’s only option behind the stumps so is almost certain to start the game. The 27-year-old has struggled during the tour so far and his 31 in the first T20I remains his best effort with the bat. Azhar and co will be demanding more from the glovesman who is in line to play only his second Test, having played his first back in 2016.
Yasir Shah: Pakistan’s premium spinner didn’t have a great outing the last time the Men in Green toured Australia. The leg-spinner claimed just eight wickets at an average of 84 and a strike-rate of a wicket every 111 deliveries. His economy of 4.53 in Australia is also his worst across the world and it will come as no surprise if the Australians target him once again.
Naseem Shah: The 16-year-old’s inclusion in the first Test has been confirmed by Azhar and his debut has become an eagerly anticipated affair for the Pakistan fans who have seen the precocious pacer perform. Naseem impressed during the warm-up games but the only worry remains that he might be fast-tracked into the side too early.
Shaheen Shah Afridi: Shaheen might be having a midlife crisis at the age of 19 when he bowls alongside the 16-year-old Naseem but the duo can come to represent Pakistan’s pace attack for years to come. His height should come in handy in Australia and the left-armer has shown that he can threaten even the best in favourable conditions during the tour of South Africa and the World Cup in England.
Imran Khan: The pacer claimed a five-for in the warm-up game and is likely to be preferred ahead of Mohammad Abbas due to his extra yard of pace. Imran is as typical a number eleven as it gets with the bat in hand and had to wait eight Tests before registering his first runs. The 32-year-old is more than just a little useful with the ball though and can play the role of destroyer and container both.