Match Preview – Australia vs Pakistan, Pakistan in Australia 2023/24, 1st Test

Big picture: Pakistan usher in new era, Australia switch gears after WC win

For a generation of Australian cricket fans, they’ve only seen Pakistan’s Test team reduced to a punchline on their shores. The statistics are particularly macabre for Pakistan, who have lost 14 straight Tests in Australia dating back over two decades.

Apart from the continual plunderings, Pakistan have also suffered several catastrophic defeats – namely Hobart ’99 and Sydney ’10 – that cemented their reputation in Australia as a highly combustible side.

Expectations of Pakistan bucking history are low. They arrive for the series-opener in Perth with an unfancied line-up that some Australian cricket fans – those who only follow the sport in December and January – would not know bar a handful of players.

But Pakistan are optimistic as they start a new era under captain Shan Masood, who has replaced Babar Azam. He is hoping to provide a steadying figure for an inexperienced Pakistan once again engulfed in off-field chaos.

Masood has led by example with his shift to a more proactive approach at the crease as Pakistan successfully reverted to an aggressive brand during an impressive series win in Sri Lanka in July. Inevitably comparisons have been made to ‘Bazball’ although Pakistan’s commitment to the cause will be tested against an Australia team still basking in last month’s memorable World Cup triumph.

A full-strength Australia will field nine players part of the World Cup-winning squad and welcome the return of frontline spinner Nathan Lyon from his calf injury that prematurely ended his Ashes campaign.

While they start hot favourites, Australia could be confronted with sluggishness after a taxing year as they turn their attention to Test cricket for the first time since the Ashes. Preparations for their players have varied; some opted for rest while others played a mixture of the T20I series against India, Sheffield Shield or BBL.

There is a widespread sentiment that this Test season, which also sees a return of West Indies, is low-key ahead of blockbuster summers featuring India and England. But Australia will not only be striving to burnish their legacy, but to also claim valuable points and ignite their title defence of the World Test Championship – which Pakistan currently leads.

The opener of the three-match series will be played amid a rebranded Perth Test – dubbed the ‘West Test’. The 60,000-capacity Optus Stadium is hosting its fourth Test match, but locals have never quite embraced Test cricket’s move from the famous WACA ground.

An entertaining Test match – on a fast pitch resembling the characteristics of the WACA’s iconic surface – might just prove defining for a city where local fans have an uneasy relationship with the national team.

Form guide

Australia LDLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)PakistanWWDDL

In the spotlight: Shaheen Shah Afridi and Nathan Lyon

Pakistan’s unheralded attack has been largely written off over its ability to take 20 wickets. Their main hope of defying the odds rests with spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi, whose new ball swing bowling will be tasked with making early inroads. He enjoyed an entertaining battle with opener David Warner during the series in Pakistan early last year, while Shaheen has had considerable success against No. 3 Marnus Labuschagne having dismissed him five times in Test cricket.
Shaheen, who can ramp it up consistently around 145 kmph, has recently lost some zip and as a result the swing has been slightly less threatening. If he can rediscover his top pace, while controlling the swing, then Shaheen should be a handful for Australia’s batters.

Can Shaheen Shah Afridi rediscover his top pace?•AFP/Getty Images

While it would be understandable for many of the Australian players to still feeling jaded, Nathan Lyon will be raring to go in his return. He took four wickets at 38 in three Shield matches in a gradual build-up as Lyon turns his attention to improving his record against Pakistan. Lyon has taken 45 wickets from 12 Tests against Pakistan at an average of 46.57 – his highest mark against any opponent. Pakistan’s promise to play aggressively indicates they will take him on, but Lyon has a terrific record on Optus Stadium with 22 wickets from three Tests. He is just four away from becoming the eighth bowler to reach 500 Test wickets and the third Australian after Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

Team news: Pakistan select debutant quicks in pace-heavy attack, Marsh over Green

Australia has made just one change from the fifth Ashes Test with Lyon replacing understudy Todd Murphy. Selectors stuck with incumbent allrounder Mitchell Marsh in favour of Cameron Green, who played in the Sheffield Shield for Western Australia and the Prime Minister’s XI match against Pakistan in a bid to win back his position.

Australia XI: 1 David Warner, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Mitchell Marsh, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Pat Cummins (capt), 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Josh Hazlewood

Pakistan will be without legspinner Abrar Ahmed due to a leg injury, but they’ve overlooked left-armer Noman Ali. They have instead decided to punt with allrounder Salman Ali Afgha, whose offspin will be relied upon with Pakistan opting against selecting a frontline spinner. Veteran paceman Hasan Ali surprisingly won’t play with Pakistan picking debutant quicks Aamer Jamal and Khurram Shahzad. Wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed retains his position over Mohammad Rizwan, who averages almost 40 from 28 Tests.

Pakistan XI: 1 Abdullah Shafique, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Shan Masood (capt), 4 Babar Azam, 5 Saud Shakeel, 6 Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), 7 Salman Ali Agha, 8 Faheem Ashraf, 9 Shaheen Shah Afridi, 10 Aamer Jamal, 11 Khurram Shahzad

Pitch and conditions

The pitch was noticeably green on Tuesday with 10 millimetres of grass left on but head curator Isaac McDonald said more would be shaven off. After a sedate surface marked a bland match between Australia and West Indies last summer, every effort has been made for a spicier pitch to help market a fixture that has never quite taken off since Tests moved to Optus Stadium.

McDonald has tipped a “hard, fast and bouncy” surface and he was confident it would not have notable cracks in the backend of the match. Warm weather around 30 degrees is forecast throughout the match, but conditions will be considerably milder than many previous Perth Test matches played in oppressive heat.

Stats and trivia

Pakistan’s last Test win in Australia was a 74-run victory at the SCG in December 1995. Their last Test in Perth was in December 2004 and they lost all five matches played at the WACA.
Babar Azam will play his 50th Test match and needs 228 runs to become the 12th Pakistan batter to reach 4000 runs.
Australia have a perfect record at Optus Stadium having beaten India, New Zealand and West Indies in the three Tests played at the ground.
Travis Head is 96 away from scoring 3000 Test runs, while Marnus Labuschagne needs 211 for 4000 runs.


“The way we like to go about it…especially in Australia…be really positive in our approach and it shapes as a good battle.”Australia captain Pat Cummins.

“It’s the same group of players largely that played in Sri Lanka, so the philosophy of the guys is probably going to the same. It’s the perfect opportunity to try and play a decent brand of cricket.”Pakistan captain Shan Masood

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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