Mitchell: Mis­bah’s men are on an Aussie mis­sion

Ali Mitchell re­ports from Aus­tralia as Pak­istan ar­rive in­tent on end­ing their hor­ror run of Test re­sults Down Un­der

The Cricket Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

Aus­tralia’s crick­eters are switch­ing for­mats faster than a fail­ing game show this sea­son. They have al­ready gone from a red-ball Test to a pink-ball Test to a One Day In­ter­na­tional se­ries in the space of 19 days, and this week they re­vert back to the five-day game to take on Pak­istan in the Gabba’s first ever day-night Test.

Af­ter Aus­tralia’s two dis­mal de­feats at the be­gin­ning of the Test se­ries against South Africa, the mood around the na­tional cricket team has lifted fol­low­ing the pink-ball Test match vic­tory in Ade­laide and the ODI se­ries win over New Zealand in coloured cloth­ing. If colour is an omen in the team’s change of for­tunes then Aus­tralia can be glad that the first Test against Pak­istan is another pink-ball affair.

Pak­istan have a woe­ful Test record in Aus­tralia, hav­ing never won a se­ries Down Un­der. They last man­aged to level a Test se­ries in 1979, but the Aussies have won the last seven se­ries since. The most re­cent se­ries (2009, 2004 and 1999) were all three-nil white­washes to the home side.You have to go as far back as 1995 for Pak­istan’s last Test match win in Aus­tralia. Even then they had al­ready waved good­bye to the se­ries. They have only played Aus­tralia in Bris­bane four times, with the last Test 17 years ago. Pak­istan have suf­fered an in­nings de­feat, two ten-wicket de­feats and a draw at the Gabba – and the draw was only pos­si­ble be­cause rain washed out play from lunchtime on day four with Pak­istan three wick­ets down, 271 runs be­hind on sec­ond in­nings and star­ing at de­feat.

This se­ries could be a lot closer than past records sug­gest though. Both sides have had tur­bu­lent re­sults of late; Aus­tralia with the afore­men­tioned re­cov­ery in Ade­laide, and Pak­istan im­press­ing against Eng­land last Au­gust, but then slump­ing to se­ries de­feats against both the West Indies and, most re­cently, New Zealand. From leap­ing to num­ber one in the ICC Test rank­ings, Pak­istan are back down at num­ber four in the world be­hind In­dia, Eng­land and the Aus­tralians.

Aus­tralia have shown in the last month that they are vul­ner­a­ble, even at home, and their bats­men are most vul­ner­a­ble against the mov­ing ball. Pak­istan, who have qual­ity ex­po­nents of swing and seam bowl­ing in Mo­hammed Amir, So­hail Khan and Wa­hab Riaz, should be seek­ing to cap­i­talise on this. Amir and Khan were the lead­ing wicket-tak­ers in New Zealand with seven scalps across the two Tests they played. Some­one like Aussie opener Matt Ren­shaw, booed for a per­ceived go-slow when Aus­tralia were se­cur­ing vic­tory in Ade­laide, could find much favour if he weathers a tricky ses­sion against a new pink ball zip­ping off a grassy pitch in typ­i­cally hu­mid con­di­tions. It will only get more chal­leng­ing un­der lights.

If con­di­tions (and a re­cent back prob­lem) al­low, Pak­istan’s Yasir Shah could also play a huge role as the se­ries goes on. He wasn’t used much in New Zealand, but he is an ex­cep­tion­ally tal­ented leg-spin­ner, be­com­ing the first since Shane Warne to be ranked the num­ber one bowler in Tests. He took 12 wick­ets in his de­but se­ries two years ago, which just hap­pened to be against Aus­tralia in the UAE. Steve Smith will be only too aware that Shah dis­missed him three times in four in­nings.

The counter punch for Pak­istan, though, is that their main bats­men are hor­ri­bly out of form and Aus­tralia’s strike bowler Mitchell Starc has shown that he and the pink ball get on rather well. Only one of Pak­istan’s bats­men, Babar Azam, av­er­aged more than 31 in the se­ries against New Zealand.

At the age of 22, Azam has been picked out by na­tional coach Mickey Arthur as be­ing as tal­ented as Vi­rat Kohli was at the same age. It is a big call with Azam only hav­ing played three Test matches so far but he was the last man stand­ing, un­beaten on 90, when the side was bowled out in the first in­nings in Hamil­ton. He shows great prom­ise, as does Aus­tralia’s new­est mid­dle-or­der re­cruit Peter Hanscomb, who an­nounced his ar­rival with a stylish half cen­tury in Ade­laide.

Then at the other end of the spec­trum, there is still un­cer­tainty as to whether Pak­istan’s 42-year-old cap­tain Mis­bah-ul-Haq will bow out at the end of this se­ries. Last April he said it would likely be his last tour. If it is, he has made it clear he will go qui­etly with no pre-an­nounce­ment and no pa­rade of good­byes at ev­ery Test match. An un­der­stated de­par­ture would match his lead­er­ship, the hall­mark of which has been calm au­thor­ity af­ter tak­ing over in the wake of the 2010 spot-fix­ing scan­dal. A sense of fun, though, was also ev­i­dent ear­lier this year when cel­e­bra­tory pub­lic press-ups be­came a fea­ture of the Eng­land tour.

While Mis­bah con­tin­ues to prove that age does not have to be a bar­rier to Test cricket, the weather in Bris­bane could yet put a damp­ener on the idea of day-night matches at the Gabba. The state is well known for its hot and hu­mid con­di­tions and flood­lit Test cricket in De­cem­ber poses a unique chal­lenge, re­cently de­scribed by Gabba cu­ra­tor Kevin Mitchell as a gam­ble. Late af­ter­noon thun­der­storms are a fa­mil­iar fea­ture of Novem­ber Test cricket at the Gabba and they tend to bring an end to the day’s play.

With the day-night el­e­ment, the ground­staff will be ex­pected to wait for the rain to pass then im­me­di­ately try to get it fit for play again. Mitchell told the Aus­tralian news­pa­per, “that’s some­thing new we haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. The ball would cer­tainly dom­i­nate in that sit­u­a­tion. Gen­er­ally when­ever the stumps go into the ground, we’re go­ing to get an af­ter­noon storm. But when you put on a match in Bris­bane in De­cem­ber, you roll the dice.”

In an ac­knowl­edge­ment of the cli­mate, the first Test will start at 1pm, an hour ear­lier than the pink-ball match in Ade­laide, to try to get as much play as pos­si­ble in the face of likely rain. Last week­end some parts of Queens­land ex­pe­ri­enced soar­ing tem­per­a­tures up to 46 de­grees and Bris­bane was sub­jected to a ‘su­per storm’ bring­ing tor­ren­tial rain, winds in ex­cess of 100kph and leav­ing 30,000 homes with­out power. Play­ers, fans and cricket au­thor­i­ties alike will be cross­ing their fin­gers that the only ‘su­per’ things about the Test match will be the size of the crowd and the com­pet­i­tive­ness and qual­ity of the cricket.

Last April, Mis­bah said this would likely be his last tour. If it is, he has made it clear he will go qui­etly with no pa­rade of good­byes

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Leader: This could be Mis­bah-ul-Haq’s last tour af­ter tak­ing the cap­taincy reins at his coun­try’s low­est ebb

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