Sell-out crowd expected at historic Pakistan-Australia Test but weather a concern

Rain expected on last three days of Rawalpindi Test with hosts missing three key players

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Cricket in Pakistan will enter a new era when they play Australia in the first Test in Rawalpindi from Friday.

It is the first visit by the Australian team to the country in 24 years and the anticipation around the tour is the highest it has been for any visit in a long time.

A sell-out 16,000 crowd is expected to watch the first Test at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, which is a rarity in the subcontinent for red-ball matches.

There was uncertainty over the tour after New Zealand and England pulled out of their visits last year at the last moment. But Pat Cummins' Aussies have fulfilled their commitment.

However, it's not all sunshine and roses. Rain forced both teams to cancel their practice sessions on Thursday with showers expected on the last three days of the Test.

Pakistan have other concerns, mainly within their squad. The hosts will be without three players, out because of injuries or positive Covid-19 results.

Fast bowler Hasan Ali and all-rounder Faheem Ashraf were ruled out of the series opener due to injuries suffered during the Pakistan Super League (PSL), while fast -bowler Haris Rauf will miss the match after a positive Covid-19 result.

Australia’s spin bowling consultant Fawad Ahmed, who was part of the Lahore Qalandars side along with Rauf, also tested positive on Wednesday and will remain in isolation for five days.

Despite the distractions, Cummins is looking forward to the Test, with Australia likely to field two spinners.

“We’ve got a fair idea what we want to do, but just don’t want to make the call too early without fully knowing what the wicket is,” Cummins said on Thursday. “I don’t think it’ll be a super quick wicket … probably two spinners.”

Cummins, who led Australia to a 4-0 Ashes win at home, didn’t reveal whether leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson will make his debut or whether the team will go with left-arm spinner Ashton Agar. Veteran Nathan Lyon will be Australia's front-line spinner.

“I’d probably prefer to keep it quiet,” he said. “I think that they’re both great options. Swepy, you know, leg spinner, it’s just a real luxury to have. He’s been bowling fantastically. He’s ready to go … [Ashton Agar] has been fantastic whenever he’s played for Australia.”

Hosts Pakistan will be worried about the recent turn of events. Not only are they missing key players, most of their squad recently competed in the Pakistan Super League and did not have enough time to get into Test match mode.

But captain Babar Azam insists the players are ready.

"As professionals, it should not be difficult for a player. It's all about mindset. Even when playing in the PSL, the players trained extra for the Test series."

The top-order batsman did admit that the unavailability of players has affected the team.

"It did disturb our combination, especially injuries to Faheem and Hasan," Azam said. "Faheem contributes both with ball and bat and Hasan is one of the top bowlers, a proven match-winner.

"Still, we have Shaheen Shah Afridi and [Naseem] Shah who both are bowling well and Fawad Alam and Rizwan in good batting form," Azam added.

The teams will fight for the Benaud-Qadir Trophy - named after legendary leg-spinners Richie Benaud of Australia and Pakistan’s Abdul Qadir.

Updated: March 03, 2022, 10:30 AM