After two one-sided T20I series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the opening Test of Australia’s home season promises much. Fingers crossed it delivers. Australia are looking to build on after retaining the Ashes in a drawn series while for Pakistan, it is their first assignment of the World Test Championship – in a country where they have never won a series and have not won a Test since 1995.
With that record, it’s tempting to suggest it should be a walkover for the home side – and it may yet turn out that way – but it’s the more competitive possibilities that are mouthwatering. Pakistan have brought three teenage quicks, with 16-year-old Naseem Shah set to debut, and there has been no shortage of talking them up. The batting also looks strong with new captain Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq having good personal memories of the last tour here in 2016-17 and Babar Azam appearing primed to kick on his Test career.
From Australia’s point of view, it’s a summer with most things back to normal compared to the fraught atmosphere of 12 months ago. Steven Smith and David Warner are back, one looking to continue Bradman-esque form and the other hoping to re-establish his Test credentials having been dominated by Stuart Broad in England.
However, it has not been a seamless build-up for Australia. The bat-off in Perth turned into more of a collapse-off, the end result is Cameron Bancroft – with a first-class average of 11 this season – is back in the Test squad. Then there was James Pattinson and his obscene language meaning he is out of this match. But quick bowlers is one thing Australia are not short of. In home conditions, the trio of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc could be the deciding factor.
It is an important match for the ground itself, too, with the Gabba coming under increasing pressure for its status as one of the premier Test venues in the country. It has been guaranteed the opening Test of the 2021-22 Ashes but didn’t host India last year and it is yet to be confirmed if it will host a Test next year. There is an investment on the way, but there will be interest in the crowd figures over the next few days.
Australia LWLDW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
David Warner had an Ashes series to forget – 95 runs in ten innings – but there was never really any doubt that he would retain his place in the side. However, that rope cannot last forever (although the last thing the Australia selectors need at the moment is to find another opening batsman). Warner started the series with a Sheffield Shield century at the Gabba which bodes well and his T20I form was prolific. He enjoys batting in Brisbane and, 21 months after his last Test on home soil, it will be fascinating to see whether he can throw off the shackles.
Babar Azam struggled on the 2016-17 tour with 68 runs in six innings but two years on, he returns to Australia carrying the expectation of a batsman on the cusp of greatness. The limited-overs game has gone supremely well, and he showed his class in the T20Is, and now it is time he takes his game up a level in Test cricket and lifts his current average of 35.28. The hundred against Australia A was full of his best shots and promises much for the next couple of weeks.
It was pretty simple for Australia after the loss of Pattinson. Michael Neser will hope his chance comes with the pink ball.
Australia 1 David Warner, 2 Joe Burns, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Matthew Wade, 7 Tim Paine (capt & wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Josh Hazlewood
Iftikhar Ahmed could slot in at No. 6 with the final decision in the pace attack likely to come down to Mohammad Abaas or Imran Khan, the latter took a five-wicket haul against Australia A.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Shan Masood, 2 Azhar Ali (capt), 3 Haris Sohail, 4 Babar Azam, 5 Asad Shafiq, 6 Iftikhar Ahmed, 7 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 8 Yasir Shah, 9 Shaheen Afridi, 10 Mohammad Abbas, 11 Naseem Shah
Pitch and conditions
The Gabba is back in its traditional slot of hosting the opening Test of the season – after being pushed down the pecking order last season – and it should be a typical surface which is one of the better ones for Test cricket in the world: pace and carry for quicks, trueness the batsmen can trust and maybe some spin if the game goes deep. There was a tinge of green on match-eve, but that was enhanced by rolling in grass clippings. “I had never heard it described like this before from the curator,” Justin Langer said. “He said that ‘today we’ve got the makeup on’ and I think he meant grass clippings, and tomorrow it will probably look a bit greener than it does today. So a fascinating art and science to producing these great wickets.” The weather is set fair with temperatures in the high 20s throughout.
Stats and Trivia
Australia have not lost at the Gabba since 1988.
On the 2016-17 tour, Pakistan came within 40 runs of chasing down 490 as Shafiq scored a fourth-innings 137.
Smith needs 27 runs for 7000 in Test cricket – he has six innings in hand to break Wally Hammond’s record for the fastest to the mark.
“We are very respectful of the Pakistan team. I watched them bat at Optus Stadium last week and they have some very technically correct batsman. I’m not going to single out one; they are a very good batting side.”
Australia coach Justin Langer
“Since we have never won here, the pressure also brings an opportunity with itself. These youngsters have not come here and lost in the past, so the advantage of that is they’re ambitious and they would want to grab this opportunity.”
Pakistan head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq
Sourav Ganguly to Virat Kohli – ‘I expect you to win in Australia’
BCCI president Sourav Ganguly expects Virat Kohli‘s side to register their second successive Test series win in Australia when they tour down under later this year. Ganguly stated the upcoming tour would be tougher than the previous outing of 2018-19 but said India also had the batting and bowling to do well there.
“I have said that to Virat also,” Ganguly told India Today in an interview. “I said, ‘because you’re Virat Kohli, your standards are high. When you walk to play, when you walk with your team, I, watching on TV, don’t expect you to just play well against Australia. I expect you to win. So for me, that is what it is. Because you have set the standards. It’s not anybody else. So you have to live up to the standards.'”
On their 2018-19 tour, India had recorded their first Test series win in Australia, winning the four-match series 2-1. Australia were then without two of their batting mainstays Steven Smith and David Warner, who were serving a one-year ban each due to their role in the ball-tampering incident in the Cape Town Test against South Africa in 2018. Ganguly acknowledged this “milestone series” would not be as easy this time.
“It’s going to be a tough series,” he said. “It’s not going to be what it was in 2018 when they went. It’s going to be a strong Australia but our team is as good. We have the batting, we have the bowling.
“Absolutely [hopeful of the team]. We just got to bat better. You know the best teams overseas, they bat well. When we were so successful away from home, in England, in Australia and in Pakistan, we were getting 400, 500 and 600 in Test matches.
India’s last international assignment was in March – a three-match ODI series against South Africa, which was called off in the wake of Covid-19 after a washout in the first game. While some of the players, including Cheteshwar Pujara and Mohammed Shami, have resumed training, one of India’s major concerns will be to ensure an injury-free return of their players, especially the fast bowlers.
“I have been in touch with him (Kohli), telling him, ‘you have got to stay fit.’ You haven’t played cricket for six months, you don’t want your fast bowlers to come back and get injured. They have been training, [but] training and playing cricket is different. You have got to make sure your best bowlers are ready for the tour and fit. Whether it’s Shami, whether it’s [Jasprit] Bumrah, whether it’s Ishant [Sharma], whether it’s [Hardik] Pandya, they have to be at the top of their match fitness when they land in Australia.”
Ganguly further said the BCCI had thought about a roadmap to start training camps in India, but with the rising Covid-19 cases, especially in the big cities, it was “too risky” to do anything soon.
“We have thought about the roadmap. We have the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) in place. The BCCI and the NCA have worked extensively in getting the proper SOPs. That have been circulated to state associations. At the moment, there is no chance of camp because of what is happening, what the situation is in the country. It’s too risky. In Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, it’s just risky. So we will have to wait.
“If at all the IPL happens in October – the Asia Cup has been cancelled – so maybe August-September would be the time where we can pull the players out and get them together for 15 days. We have got things in place but at the same time, the safety of the players is very important because they are long-term assets for India. One series, one IPL is not more important than player safety. But we want it to happen provided everything is in order.”
India’s tour to Australia is scheduled to kick-off in October with three T20Is, followed by four Tests and three ODIs.
“We just hope the number of quarantine days get reduced a bit because you don’t want the players to go all the way that far and sit in hotel rooms for two weeks,” Ganguly said. “It’s very depressing and disappointing. So we are looking at that and December is still a long way.”
Recent Match Report – England vs West Indies 1st Test 2020
England 204 and 284 for 8 (Sibley 50, Crawley 76, Gabriel 3-62) lead West Indies 318 by 170 runs
West Indies’ seamers took five wickets in the final 75 minutes of the fourth day to leave them on top in an enthralling Test match at the Ageas Bowl.
England looked to have put themselves into the box seat as Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley made half-centuries, batting time on a pitch with variable bounce, as thoughts turned to what sort of lead they might want before declaring on the final day.
But after Jason Holder drew an edge to gully from Ben Stokes, the wickets tumbled: Alzarri Joseph accounted for Crawley and Jos Buttler in the day’s quickest spell before Shannon Gabriel ripped through Dom Bess and Ollie Pope to leave West Indies dreaming of a famous win.
Rory Burns and Sibley had survived a brutal 10-over examination on the third evening but found scoring easier in the morning session, moving through the gears as they added 47 in the first hour of the day. But Holder reacted, bowling dry in tandem with offspinner Roston Chase, and the scoring pressure eventually told as Burns spooned a catch to point off Chase’s first half-tracker of the day.
Sibley in particular dropped anchor. He was occasionally bogged down against Chase, and seemed to be caught in two minds when Holder asked Joseph to target his ribcage, a tactic which proved to be his undoing in his final three innings in South Africa and even in the intra-squad warm-up match. He was handed a life the ball after reaching fifty, dragging a back-of-a-length delivery from Gabriel on to his stumps only for the third umpire to decide that he overstepped by a fine margin. But Gabriel had his man two balls later, firing a length ball down the leg side from wide on the crease which Sibley only managed to tickle through to Shane Dowrich.
Joe Denly, backed at No. 3 ahead of Crawley, played the sort of innings that has become his trademark, for better or worse. He struggled early on, playing and missing repeatedly and surviving a shout for a catch off Holder which was shown on review to have looped up to second slip via his body. He grew in fluency as his innings wore on, but his dismissal – chipping an innocuous delivery from Chase to straight midwicket – was nothing if not soft.
Denly’s failings were exposed further by Crawley’s success. Chris Silverwood had hinted in the build-up to this Test that Denly was likely to be included for the second Test when Joe Root returns, telling the BBC: “Joe is in possession at the moment, and I do believe in giving people one too many chances rather than one not enough.”
But it seems implausible that Crawley will lose his place after an innings that oozed class, with a straight drive down the ground off Roach early in his innings one of the shots of the day. While England’s top three relied on flicks, pulls and dabs behind square, Crawley scored the vast majority of his runs in front of the wicket, driving elegantly and using his long levers to hit over the top off Chase.
West Indies looked short of ideas against him and Stokes during their partnership of 98, with Stokes in particular taking a disdainful approach to Gabriel’s new-ball spell as England looked to make the game secure. But again Holder’s emphasis on discipline reaped rewards, as Stokes was caught trying to force a shot, falling to his opposite number for the second time in the match, before Crawley offered a return catch to Joseph six balls later.
The game turned on its head in a hurry. Joseph, who had been used sparingly earlier in the day rather than being rammed into the ground, bowled with good pace, and burst through Buttler’s loose shot to leave England six wickets down.
While Buttler’s failure to make a telling score will undoubtedly put him under scrutiny – his average since the start of last summer’s Ashes is now just 21.38 – Joseph’s spell was incisive, as he found movement with the ball still relatively new. Tellingly, his celebrations were muted even after his breakthroughs, as if to emphasise that there was still a job to be done.
The benefits of Holder’s captaincy were evident again when Gabriel was unleashed in the final half-hour. He castled Bess, targeting the stumps from wide on the crease, before Pope dragged on with England staring down the barrel, only 165 ahead with two wickets in hand. Mark Wood and Jofra Archer snuck England through to the close with a lead of 170, and will be tasked with spending time in the middle before making more of an impact with the ball than they managed in the first innings.
Simmons ‘extremely pleased’ as West Indies quicks seize moment
West Indies head coach Phil Simmons hailed his bowling attack’s persistence and patience after five late wickets put his team into the driving seat against England.
When Zak Crawley and Ben Stokes combined for a fluent partnership of 98, the bulk of which were made after the tea interval, it had looked as though the game was drifting away from West Indies, who had managed only three wickets in the day. But after Jason Holder removed Stokes for the second time in the match, Alzarri Joseph and Shannon Gabriel took two wickets apiece in quick spells which seemed to vindicate Holder’s emphasis on discipline and patience throughout the match.
“It showed the persistence of the bowlers,” Simmons said. “We’d been fighting all day and Stokes and Zak started to take the bowling apart. But the persistence of Jason [was rewarded] and then Alzarri’s spell was a huge spell too.
“I’m extremely pleased with the way the bowlers bowled today – both when two batters [Rory Burns and Dom Sibley] batted before lunch and more so when Stokes and Crawley were trying to take it away from us.
“The patience we exhibited has been something that we’ve been asking for for a while, and today it showed up. We bore the fruit of that in the evening session. You can’t really say much more – they stuck to their tasks.”
In particular, the flurry of wickets before the close seemed to reward Holder’s sparing use of his two strike bowlers earlier in the day.
While it would have been tempting to throw Gabriel and Joseph the ball and ask them to target England’s top three with bouncers, Holder instead split the bulk of the workload between the relentless Kemar Roach, himself, and offspinner Roston Chase, choking England’s scoring on a slow pitch.
That meant that Joseph had bowled only 11 of the day’s 80 overs when he returned to bowl with the second new ball still offering movement, and the rewards were immediate: his was the fastest spell of the innings, and accounted for both Crawley – caught and bowled in his follow-through – and Buttler, who was bowled through the gate.
Gabriel, too, was fresh upon his return after only 12 overs in the day, and twice beat Dom Bess in the off-stump channel in the first over of his spell before knocking out his off pole in his second. Four balls later, he got one to lift from a length which Ollie Pope only managed to chop on, leaving England eight wickets down with a slender lead of 165.
Simmons said that there had not been a specific plan to leave some energy in the tank moving into the final hour, but hailed Holder’s management of his bowlers throughout the match so far.
“It’s just how the captain sees it when he’s out there,” Simmons said. “That’s just the way he rotated his bowlers today, and it worked well for us in the end.
“When [Alzarri] is bowling like he bowled this evening here, he’s always going to be a threat to any batting line-up we play against. That’s the thought we are trying to get in his head: that this is the type of spell we want from him and need from him.
“Part of Test cricket is about patience, especially when you have wickets like this to play on, and it’s something that we’ve been working on hard – not getting bored at doing the simple things and the basic things for a while to put people under pressure. I’m glad to see it’s working, and guys are thinking about what we’ve been working on.”
Simmons gave further praise to Gabriel, who has now taken seven wickets in his first first-class appearance since last September following a long ankle lay-off.
“It shows his desire to play for West Indies, coming back from ankle surgery and doing all the hard work he’s done. Even during lockdown in Trinidad, he was finding ways to train to get himself fit for this series. You can only compliment him.
“I’m sure that Jason is happy to have him, Roach is happy to have him as an opening partner, and Alzarri is coming up with them. It’s great to see the combination and how they’re working together. That’s the important thing, how they bowl together and it’s showing and it’s improving.”
As for the fourth innings, Simmons suggested that the benefit of late wickets was that it meant there would be little in the way of scoring pressure on his batsmen.
“We’ve got to get the two wickets, and whatever is put in front of us, we have a day to bat. The confidence from the way we batted and the attitude towards batting in the first innings is going to be a huge plus for us when we bat in the second innings.
“Whether we’re chasing 170 or 190, it’s going to be the same attitude that we need to chase it. I have confidence in that.”
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