Sports, Cricket

Australia eyes at end of stellar year

By Reuters
Published : 12 Dec 2023 08:09 PM | Updated : 12 Dec 2023 08:09 PM

Australia will look to cap a brilliant year with a golden home summer by beating Pakistan in a three-test series starting in Perth on Thursday as David Warner looks to bow out of the longest format on a triumphant note.

Having won the World Test Championship, retained the Ashes and earned a record-extending sixth World Cup title, Pat Cummins's side have the chance to celebrate with home fans against a team they have whitewashed in their last five home series.

Australia head coach Andrew McDonald said the hosts would field their strongest side, which means a welcome return for spinner Nathan Lyon, who will chase his 500th test wicket after injury ruled him out of the last three matches of the Ashes.

Warner, however, may be the biggest headline of the series as he looks to defy his detractors with big runs ahead of a planned swan song in the series finale in Sydney.

Warner's place in Australia's white ball teams is assured after a prolific World Cup but his spot in the test squad has been on shaky ground in recent years due to declining output.

His selection for the first test triggered a scathing column by former team mate Mitchell Johnson, who questioned whether Warner deserved a "hero's sendoff" in Sydney five years on from 'Sandpaper-gate'.

One of Australia's greatest openers, 37-year-old Warner can put the debate to bed with a big score at Perth Stadium but failure to do so would put pressure on selectors to fast track a successor.

Pakistan arrive with a new skipper in Shan Masood and a familiar backdrop of tumult as they look to win a first ever series in Australia and a first test since 1995.

Masood inherited the captaincy after Babar Azam stepped down as all-formats skipper last month in the wake of their failure to make the World Cup semi-finals.

Already missing exciting quick Naseem Shah through injury, paceman Haris Rauf enraged the Pakistan Cricket Board by opting out of the series to focus on playing T20 franchise cricket with the Melbourne Stars.

A knee injury to legspinner Abrar Ahmed has depleted the squad further, ruling him out of Perth and putting him in doubt for the rest of the series in Melbourne and Sydney.

Anchored by an unbeaten 201 from number three Masood, Pakistan had a solid tour match against an invitational XI in Canberra last week but staff were left fuming over the slow Manuka Oval wicket.

The docile conditions are highly unlikely to be repeated in Perth this week.

"That was the slowest pitch a visiting team could ever play on in Australia," Pakistan team director Mohammad Hafeez said in Perth.

"Maybe it's tactical but we're ready for it. We're not using it as an excuse."

With Babar able to focus purely on his batting and Masood in welcome form, the famously unpredictable South Asians have some hope of producing the 400-run innings generally needed to pull off a win in Australia.

However, without their strongest bowling lineup, taking 20 wickets against a team riding high with confidence after a trophy-laden year may prove beyond them.