PREVIEW | Young guns must fire for Pakistan to stand a chance
At 00:00 GMT, the Australian summer starts in earnest with a two-Test series against Pakistan. Following emotionally taxing World Cup and Ashes campaigns, there’s an understandable degree of apathy Down Under towards the latest instalment of the never-ending international cricket roadshow.
Indeed, despite points being up for grabs for the World Test Championship, there is a general perception in Australia that the real value of playing Pakistan at home right now is the opportunity to stabilise a brittle middle-order and enable David Warner to rediscover some form.
It must be noted that the arrogance of such an outlook is statistically justified; Pakistan have never won a Test series in Australia and have lost their last twelve Tests against the baggy green.
Yet, in spite of the consistency of the tourists’ failure, the rumoured talent of Pakistan’s teenage quicks, Babar Azam’s potential to challenge the Smith-Kohli duopoly and past personal glories of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq in Australia, teases the possibility of an upset.
All the ingredients are there for Pakistan to pull a Pakistan, defy records and expectations and blow Australia away. If such an outcome is to ensue however, it will require Pakistan’s teenage talent to come of age. To that end, let’s have a glance at these promising young bowlers.
The 16-year-old had a tough outing in the final tour match before the first Test, leaking runs and unable to take any wickets. However, his performance on the final day of the warm-up game against Australia A, in which he tortured Marcus Harris before having him caught off a quick, steeply rising short-pitched delivery, illuminated his potential as a genuine threat to an Australian batting line-up which is yet to totally convince. Shah’s spell is made more impressive given he was given compassionate leave on day two of the game after the death of his mother.
Even in the video-analysis age, Shah, being so young, does not come with a great deal of footage for the Australian back-room team to pore over – as such, this exciting talent could prove a potent threat to both the established and vulnerable in the Australian order.
Unlike Shah, Shaheen Afridi does not command anything close to an air of mystery – he played in the recent World Cup in England as well as in tests against New Zealand and South Africa. However, at 6ft 6’, he certainly has the potential to intimidate, especially at the notoriously bouncy Gabbatoir.
The 19-year-old may be wise to heed the advice of the former Pakistan, South Africa and Australia coach Micky Arthur though, who has said that the tourists’ young quicks must resist the temptation of bowling regular bumpers at the risk of diminishing the shock-value of the delivery.
A full length in Australia is imperative for anyone hopeful of getting any LBW decisions, so Afridi and co. best play their chin music sparingly.
That said, if plans A, B, C and D for Steve Smith bring no reward, then Afridi’s height will make him the likely candidate to attempt to impersonate Jofra Archer at Lord's and rough up the former Aussie skipper.
The third of Pakistan’s emerging teenagers is unlikely to make his Test debut at the Gabba. However, there’s a hell of a lot of hype around this young lad and given his pace, height and Pakistan’s history of making last minute left-field selections (think Wahab Riaz in the World Cup), there’s every chance he’ll get a game in this series.
Musa has already made something of an impression in the PSL for routinely bowling a minimum of 140kph, and he has all the attributes necessary to be successful in Australia. Moreover, he’s another relative unknown and thus has the potential to wreak havoc should he get an opportunity.
Pakistan’s bowling unit will almost certainly include Mohammad Abbas, a supreme new-ball threat, and Yasir Shah, an experienced leggy with something to prove against the Aussies.
Imran Khan (no, not the Prime Minister) is another seamer who will think he’s got every chance of playing, but with Naseem Shah expected to make his debut and Afridi becoming something of an established international, that is perhaps unlikely.
What is not in question though, is the capacity of Pakistan’s battery of bowlers to inflict match-winning damage on the hosts. If they can get past the man heralded by some as the ‘best since Bradman’, the away side can harbour hopes of something quite remarkable.