About the Match
The final test of the series between Australia and Pakistan is all set to start in Sydney. Even though the series has been settled already, there is plenty for both sides to play for.
This test series against Pakistan has come at a very welcome time for Australia. Their team was losing far more often than is accepted by their public and the pressure on Steve Smith was immense, especially after the loss to South Africa at home.
If the team can win this match, then they will look towards their next assignment in India with a lot more confidence seeing as they would have won four consecutive tests.
The team selection of Australia is also an indicator that they are looking to test a possible combination for India. They have picked Ashton Agar, Steve O’Keefe and Hilton Cartwright in the squad making it almost certain these they will travel to India as well.
While Agar has not been picked in the eleven for this match, O’Keefe makes a comeback and Cartwright will be making his debut.
The lack of an all-rounder in the side has upset the balance of the team somewhat and Hilton Cartwright, who is predominantly a batsman, will be keen to impress upon the selectors his potential to fill that gap.
Batting at number six and coming on as the fifth bowler in the side is a big responsibility and places an immense amount of scrutiny on the debutants back. Travis Bird, who will be missing out in this test match, will be missed in our opinion as the workload on Starc and Hazelwood will only grow more severe.
Steve Smith is a captain that seems to go with his pace bowlers in tough situations rather than spinners. He would want to be careful in ensuring his premier fast bowlers are not overworked because an injury to them could mean a death blow to his team’s chances in India.
Australia’s batting is looking very strong in these conditions and with Warner, Khawaja, Smith, and Handscomb all in brilliant form, the Pakistani bowlers look to be set for another leather hunt in Sydney.
The nature of the pitch in Sydney is such, though, that the Pakistani spinners will play a key role in this match. Recent evidence of the Australian batting against spin has not been the most encouraging and even though Sydney is nothing like the pitches they encountered in Sri Lanka, the challenge to their batsmen will be a little more severe.
We think that Steve Smith, in supreme form and excellent against spin, is the best bet for the top run scorer for Australia, while Nathan Lyon, full of confidence after his performance in the second test is an excellent choice for the top wicket taker in the Australian side.
Pakistan has a lot on its minds going into this match. They should never have lost the second test match after only having to bat out two sessions on a pitch that was completely benign. Their captain, Misbah-ul-Haq has been a rock of stability for them in previous years, but at 42, this could very well be his last test match.
The Pakistani test team was ranked number one only a few months back but the fall from that peak has been sudden and spectacular. They are now looking at their worst sequence of defeats in their entire cricketing history.
The one bright spot has been the form of Azhar Ali. He has played test cricket conventionally, taking his time when needed and not worrying about the flow of runs. He will need to continue in this same form if Pakistan is to challenge Australia in Sydney.
The other batsman that has impressed is Asad Shafiq. The number 6 for Pakistan continues to look at complete ease whenever he bats and the results might have been even more one-sided if he had not performed like he has.
One of the major disappointments on this tour has been young Babar Azam. He came into this tour with big expectations and people were hoping that he would stamp his authority on the team much like Virat Kohli had done years back.
We think that the most familiar conditions in Sydney would suit his game and maybe allow him to score some vital runs.
The real contest in this match, though, will be between Yasir Shah and the Australian batting lineup. Yasir has been poorly used, given daft fields and been forced to bowl a legside line. A pitch that offers some turn in Sydney will increase the threat he poses manifold and he is a clear favorite to be the top wicket taker in the Pakistani innings.
In fact, Yasir Shah could very well change the nature of this match and deliver a victory single-handedly. It is something that Mushtaq Ahmed did in Sydney way back in 1995, the lats time a Pakistani team won in Australia.
A continuous reason for Pakistan’s inability to win abroad is their atrocious fielding ability. They continue to drop catches and give easy runs in the field. On a tough tour where every chance is crucial, this adds up to a real big gulf by the end of things.
A lot can be expected from Wahab Riaz in this match as the more abrasive surface usually, privdes some amount of reverse swing to the fast bowlers. Wahab bowled with fire in short bursts in the last match but will need to put in a much bigger effort if he has to deliver Pakistan a test victory.
Misbah-ul-Haq is a much-loved leader in Pakistan and the possibility of this being his last test could galvanize Pakistan to fight with fire. This surface also provides them the best opportunity to be competitive and maybe even win on this tour.
We, however, look back at their history in the country, their current form and the undeniable decline of key players and are confident in backing Australia to win this test match as well. A 3-0 scoreline looks large for Pakistan.