Big picture: Series gone, but Pakistan have WTC points to play for
It’s David Warner week at the SCG, but there might be a competitive Test match in store in Sydney if the pitch and the weather play ball.
Pakistan gave Australia a true scare in Melbourne and save for a handful of unforced errors in the field, and if you side with Mohammad Hafeez, some “inconsistent umpiring” and DRS calls, they could have pulled off a Christmas miracle and beaten the home side.
As it were, though, the match and the series were lost. But that does not mean that Sydney be a dull dead rubber. Vital World Test Championship [WTC] points aside, the two sides have history here. Pakistan should have won in 2010. Not unlike Melbourne last week, they somehow shot themselves in the foot to lose the unlosable Test match. The SCG is also the site of Pakistan’s last Test win in Australia back in 1995.
It is the site, too, of Pakistan’s best performance in a limited-overs World Cup in the last decade, when they beat New Zealand in the T20 World Cup semi-final just 14 months ago.
Pakistan’s record in Sydney and their chances of another upset may get lost in the Warner wash as Australia’s opener hopes to farewell Test cricket in style. Sydney has been a natural endpoint for many Australian Test greats and while Warner may not engender quite the same emotional outpouring from Sydney fans as some of the other greats that have ended their careers at the SCG, there is set to be a lot of goodwill and warmth towards him as there has been in Perth and Melbourne in his final bows at those venues.
Love him or loathe him, he has put together an extraordinary Test career as the most prolific Australia opener of all time, and he is statistically the best opener of his generation in global cricket by some margin.
His team-mates have a true appreciation for his record and his contributions in Test cricket and will be keen to farewell him with a win. Australia are set to go in unchanged for the third straight Test match, showcasing their incredible stability. Pakistan could only wish for the same type of stability as they are set to make more changes, with Imam-ul-Haq under pressure to keep his place while there is also a desire within Pakistan’s camp to play a specialist spinner in Sydney.
Australia WWLDL (last five matches, most recent first)Pakistan LLWWL
In the spotlight: David Warner and Saud Shakeel
David Warner isn’t in the spotlight to keep his place anymore given this will be his last Test match. But it will be interesting to see if he can muster up something special to farewell Test cricket with a bang. He’s not one to slink quietly into the night. He admitted in the build-up to Sydney that emotions got the better of him in Melbourne as he struggled in both innings after playing superbly in Perth. Sydney has been a happy hunting ground. He hasn’t been as dominant there as some other venues in Australia but he has still peeled off four Test centuries on his home deck, equal with Adelaide Oval and the Gabba as his most at a specific venue in his Test career. Warner and his team-mates will be hoping he can add one more.
Saud Shakeel arrived in Australia burgeoning reputation in international cricket. But like so many players who have started their careers brightly on the sub-continent, he has been tested on his first trip down under. He has not been completely exposed, having reached 20 in three of his four innings so far, but his inability to kick on has been a problem for Pakistan and the manner of his dismissals have also been a concern. Josh Hazlewood has worked him over on the front and back foot from around the wicket, dismissing him three times, while the extra pace and bounce of Mitchell Starc forced an error at a critical moment in the fourth innings in Melbourne. Sydney should suit him more than any other Test strip in Australia. If Pakistan are to beat Australia in Australia, they need runs from Shakeel.
Team news: No Shaheen, Imam for final Test
Cummins bullishly claimed that Australia’s three fast bowlers could play all five home Tests for the summer and the subsequent two Tests in New Zealand in early March. They are on track as the team is unchanged for the third straight Test match.
Australia 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 have made two changes to the side that lost the second Test in Melbourne. Imam-ul-Haq has made way for Saim Ayub, who will be making his debut at the top of the order. Imam has fought hard and done well to absorb pressure at the top, but has not found a way to hurt Australia’s fast bowlers. The other and bigger change is that Shaheen Shah Afridi will not play the Sydney Test, with specialist spinner Sajid Khan coming in. There was no place for Abrar Ahmed, who hasn’t recovered from injury. Hasan Ali bowled well in Melbourne and has been retained.
Pakistan 1 Abdullah Shafique, 2 Saim Ayub, 3 Shan Masood (capt), 4 Babar Azam, 5 Saud Shakeel, 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Agha Salman, 8 Sajid Khan, 9 Hasan Ali, 10 Mir Hamza, 11 Aamer Jamal
There is some pressure on SCG curator Adam Lewis to produce a good Test surface given the quality of some of the recent Test pitches. He has not had much luck with the weather in recent years. The last Shield pitch that was produced was also severely criticised but there is an expectation this Test pitch will play well.
“I spoke to a couple of guys,” Cummins said. “There have been two Shield wickets, they all said that first one was the best SCG Shield wicket they’ve played on in a few years. Yeah that second one, chatting to the groundsman, it got a bit drier than they hoped. And they had been tinkering with some new grass and it’s a bit different to the Test grass we have this week. Everyone seems pretty happy where it’s at, so we’ll get out there and have a look.”
“Every Test match is important. We’ve got a couple of points to make up from some overrates in England. Every game has context and it’s a home Test match, every Test match you play is big, but every one in Australia is even bigger.” Australia captain Pat Cummins on the importance of each Test.
“You always have to look at the bigger picture after a game like the MCG. We’ve learned the lessons, at least we’ve put ourselves in those positions from where we could compete in or dominate games. It’s now about not repeating mistakes, and if we can put in similar efforts to the one at the MCG, we’ll be winning a lot of Tests” Pakistan captain Shan Masood on bouncing back after Melbourne.