BRISBANE     -     Pakistan have lost their last 12 Tests on Australian soil, with the last win dating back to November 1995. Azhar Ali’s young side is aiming to end the losing streak. Pakistan’s ICC World Test Championship campaign begins with a tough assignment first up, as they face a power-packed Australian unit in their own conditions.

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. Azhar 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 on the MRF Tyres 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.

Weather in Brisbane is expected to be bright and sunny, accompanied by a gentle breeze for the next five days. The Brisbane wicket is known to offer a significant amount of assistance to the quicker bowlers with its consistent bounce, more so on the first few days. In the last Test match played here, between Australia and Sri Lanka in January, pacers accounted for 25 of the 30 wickets that fell across the three innings.

Australia bowler Pat Cummins said: “Like any other team, I’m sure we’ll use some bouncers, but, if we’re using a bouncer, it’s because we think it’s a wicket-taking ball. I don’t think we’ll overdo it. We might have our different plans to different batters but, like always, I try and use one bouncer an over or once every couple of overs. It’s going to be the full ball that gets the wickets.”

Pakistan batsman Babar Azam said: “It’s going to 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.”

SQUADS

PAKISTAN: Shan Masood, Azhar Ali (capt), Haris Sohail, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Yasir Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah.

AUSTRALIA: David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (capt & wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.