Australia’s first Test in Pakistan in 24 years starting on Friday is threatened by rain, but even storm clouds failed to dampen the mood of rival captains Pat Cummins and Babar Azam on the eve of the match.
Rain forced both teams to cancel their practice sessions on Thursday, but the forecast is clear for Friday and most of Saturday, with showers likely on the last three days of play.
Despite the weather, Cummins and Azam were geared up for the historic Test — to be played in front of a sell-out 16,000 crowd in Rawalpindi, the garrison city just south of the capital, Islamabad.
Australia haven’t toured Pakistan since 1998 as security issues kept international teams from visiting, and as a result are unfamiliar with the local pitches.
“It looks like a good wicket… as expected,” Cummins told reporters on the eve of the match. He said Australia would probably go into the Test with three quick bowlers or two spinners. “We just want to have another look at the wicket,” he said.
The Aussie skipper refused to accept that Pakistan would be fielding a depleted side as a result of injuries to star fast bowler Hasan Ali and all-rounder Faheem Ashra. “It’s a loss for the Pakistan side, but there’s always another guy that can step up,” he said.
But he played down being tagged as “favourites” after their comprehensive 4-0 drubbing of England in the Ashes series that ended in January. “To be honest it doesn’t really mean much,” he said. “We feel lucky that we’ve got a strong squad coming off some really good performances, but… it’s unfamiliar conditions, so we’ll see.”
Pakistan skipper Azam, however, said the side would definitely miss the pair — particularly Hasan, who took 10 wickets in Pakistan’s win over South Africa in Rawalpindi last year.
“Hasan is a match-winner and Ashraf contributes in both batting and bowling so that has disturbed our combination,” said Azam, whose team is likely to include teenage fast-bowler Naseem Shah. Naseem took a hat-trick against Bangladesh at Rawalpindi stadium two years ago.
“Still, we have Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah who both are bowling well and Fawad Alam and Rizwan in good batting form,” said Azam.
The hosts are also likely to include two spinners in Nauman Ali and Sajid Khan, with all-rounder Iftikhar Ahmed a supporting act.
Azam said the Aussies were strong and experienced, but was confident of a good showing from the home side. “We will not take them easy, but we have planned against them and you will see good cricket,” he said.
The second Test is in Karachi from March 12 while the third match is in Lahore starting on March 21. Australia and Pakistan will also play three one-day internationals and one Twenty20.