Fab Fawad and marvellous Marnus

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Pakistan v Australia
Friday 4 March, 05:00
TV: live on Sky Sports

Pakistan depleted

Pakistan cricket would appear to be in rude health post the PSL. But the Test side is not at its strongest for what is considered a historic series. It could be that Pakistan’s achievement will be to get Australia to play.

They have problems with their line-up due to withdrawals. The loss of Faheem Ashraf, a genuine world-class all-rounder, and pacer Hasan Ali has upset their balance horribly. Haris Rauf is also out. They may now have to play five bowers with a debutant, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, at No 7. Wasim has only played seven first-class matches.

The other option is to play Iftikhar Ahmed at No 7. Iftikhar can bat but his part-time offspin is not considered much of a threat. But then should it be? Surely Sajid Khan and Nauman Ali back themselves to take down the Aussies here despite being Test ingenues?

Possible XI: Imam, Shafique, Azhar, Babar, Fawad. Rizwan, Iftikhar, Nauman, Afridi, Sajid, Naseem

Aussies shuffle

ustralia appear to be keen to spend as little time as possible in Pakistan. They have no warm-up match and have had about two days’ worth of decent net time.

But they should field a balanced XI. Their main decision will be whether to find room for an extra spin option, most likely Ashton Agar as he offers more batting depth than Mitch Swepson.

Who makes way for Agar is a good debate. It could be all-rounder Cameron Green in a like-for-like. More controversial would be to ditch one of Josh Hazelwood or Mitchell Starc, both of whom have eyewatering strike rates in the first-innings in Asia in the last three years.

Pat Cummins, of course, leads. Steve Smith returns after time out with concussion. Marnus Labuschagne has been trialling weird and wonderful methods to combat spin in his downtime.

Possible XI: Warner, Khawaja, Labuschagne, Smith, Head, Carey, Agar, Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood, Lyon.

Pitch report

There have been only three Tests since 2005 in Rawalpindi. But they were all since 2019. No side made more than 309 in the first match innings. South Africa were destroyed by pace in 2021.

Australia would be happy if it as a pacy pitch. It takes away the spin jeopardy. Nathan Lyon, their spin whizz, has compared the surface to the ones which Australia faced in the UAE in recent years; a decent batting surface in the first two inning s before wear and tear brings in the spinners and reverse swing bowlers.

There is a big temptation to short Australia runs. In their last seven first innings in Asia in the last five years the cultural difference has been exposed. They’ve passed 300 twice. In the UAE in 2018 they recorded first-dig scores of 202 and 145. Bet their runs market here

Pakistan the value

This is a cracking heat. Pakistan are 2.608/5, Australia 2.809/5 and the draw 3.7511/4. It’s competitive because there are negatives about both sides.

The hosts have gorged on a white-ball diet and are below strength. Australia will almost certainly find conditions alien and have been untested recently by a shambolic England.

Perhaps the key to separate them is the toss if pitch reports are right. Bat first, post 320 or more and then let pressure and a crumbling surface to the rest in the fourth.

We have more faith in Pakistan with the toss in their favour so we’d advise an interest from 2.305/4.

Tops value

Fawad Alam is a standout wager for top Pakistan bat in the first-innings. Fawad has four wins in his last 12 yet goes off at 11/2. He may not have much to beat with Babar Azam below par. Babar has just two wins in 16 and we’ll swerve Sportsbook’s boosted 21/10.

Also a good wager is the 5/2 that Fawad notches a fifty in the first dig. He has a hit rate of 41% in the last three years.

For Australia, Labuschagne has obsessed about getting runs on this tour. The 10/3 he tops is good. The 9/5 he manages a fifty in first innings with a 61% hit rate in three years is solid, too.

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