After weeks of feverish speculation as to whether Rawalpindi’s ground would offer Perth-like pace or sub-continental rotation, Nathan Lyon’s thoughtful assessment compares it to surfaces seen in the United Arab Emirates where Australia have remained without victory in his last two visits.
The Australian squad embarked on their inaugural training session at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium yesterday where they were greeted by a flat, grassless track that sported its share of small cracks with three days left to play on the Qantas Tour of Pakistan on Friday .
It prompted intense scrutiny from members of both teams – who trained side-by-side yesterday – with tourists particularly keen to glean clues as to how the pitch might play out given the Australian didn’t feature test match in Pakistan since 1998.
In the 24 years since, Pakistan have hosted Australia in ‘home’ Tests in the UK, Sri Lanka and the Emirates, with the last two of those series taking place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where Pakistan recorded three heavy wins with Australia stubbornly recovering a draw. .
After training in practice nets yards away from their rivals and the test tape at the Rawalpindi center wicket yesterday, Lyon noted there was little spin on offer for themselves or fellow specialty tweakers Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson.
And as a former curator who helped prepare the grounds at Adelaide Oval before making the switch to a career as a professional cricketer in 2010, Lyon’s trained eye predicted the test track is likely to replicate conditions at the United Arab Emirates where big first-inning totals are often followed by turn dominance.
Of the 37 Tests played in the UAE since 2002, the top five wicket takers have all been spinners, with Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath being the only non-Pakistani player in this cohort alongside Yasir Shah, Saeed Ajmal, Zulfiqar Babar and Abdur Rehman.
“We’re actually training about three throws on the center wicket (block) and it wasn’t spinning that much,” Lyon told reporters at Rawalpindi ahead of Australia’s second training session today.
“I know we have a bit more grass on the wicket we train on compared to what looks like the match wicket.
“The (test) surface looks like a UAE wicket at the moment.
“There’s not a lot of grass on it, I dare say it’s going to be pretty bright on day one.
“So I’m expecting it to be pretty nice to swing for the first two days and then wait until it turns around hopefully and the reverse swing can kick in.
“It’s not the type of box office I’d probably be producing if I was still doing my curator stuff, but those days are long gone.”
Lyon claimed that national selection committee chairman George Bailey, men’s team interim coach Andrew McDonald and captain Pat Cummins faced “an interesting conversation” when finalizing the starting XI. Australia for the first of three tests.
Given that Bailey has already indicated that Usman Khawaja will retain his place at the top of the command, and that only unforeseen events are likely to see changes in the remaining batting roles, the discussion will apparently focus on the composition of the formation. bowling.
Specifically, if Cummins is joined by a few other fasts from Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Scott Boland, or if conditions dictate the inclusion of a second spinner that would see Lyon paired with left arm orthodox Agar or Swepson leg spinner .
The other alternative is for all three spinners to be included with Agar filling the all-purpose role currently held by dressmaker Cameron Green, but that seems unlikely given that the plot gives no outward hints of being a “raging” spinner.
Fawad Ahmed, the former Australian leg player who joined the team as a consultant for the month-long tour of Pakistan, has yet to officially join the group as he remains in self-isolation at the hotel. team in Islamabad in accordance with COVID-19 protocols. .
It is understood Fawad traveled from last weekend’s Pakistan Super League final in Lahore on the same flight as Pakistani speedy Haris Rauf who has since tested positive for COVID and been ruled out of the opening test in Rawalpindi .
But even without Fawad’s local knowledge and expertise to draw on directly in training, Lyon believes the uncapped Swepson and Agar – who played the most recent of his four Tests in Bangladesh in 2017 – are ready to go. slot into the starting XI if necessary.
“Mitch and Ash bowl extremely well, and if you look at our top order, we have guys like Marnus (Labuschagne) and Smithy (Steve Smith) and Travis (Head) who can also bowl.
“So we’re very lucky in that area, and it’s not just this tour that we’re focused on.
“It’s been a huge 12 months for the Australian cricket team and we also have extensive sub-continental tours to Pakistan, Sri Lanka (later this year) and India (early 2023).
“So there will be a lot of opportunities not only for me and Sweppo to get up, but also for the other players.”
With Test campaigns in three Asian countries over the next 12 months, Lyon looms as Australia’s potentially most important bowler given the majority of those matches are expected to be played on spin-friendly surfaces.
The 34-year-old joined the elite when he claimed his 400th Test wicket at the start of this summer’s Vodafone Ashes series against England, and his success is largely based on his ability to perform consistently whatever the surrounding conditions.
This is underlined by the remarkable similarities between his home and away records.
– cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) March 2, 2022
In tests contested on familiar grounds in Australia, Lyon’s overspin and exaggerated rebound netted them 216 wickets (from 57 matches) at an average of 32.27, while abroad on tracks as disparate as England and India his 199 scalps (48 matches) cost 31.26. each.
In 19 Sub-Continental Tests (including UAE), this record shows 95 wickets at 31.24, which is a higher average than Harbhajan Singh of India (32.02), Shakib Al Hasan of Bangladesh ( 32.67) and Dilruwan Perera from Sri Lanka (33.74) with their finger size. under the same conditions.
And his strike rate on surfaces that are meant to be second nature to bowlers learning their trade in Asia – one wicket every 59 balls in testing – makes him even more powerful than legends like Pakistani pair Saqlain Mushtaq ( 64 balls) and Ajmal (66).
However, Lyon acknowledges that due to Australia having not played a Test away from home since their 2019 Ashes stay in the UK, adapting to whatever conditions await them in Rawalpindi , Karachi and Lahore will be a severe and unknown challenge.
A bit of fun yesterday at training here in Pakistan 🇵🇰 pic.twitter.com/UYz1KgCWN5
— Pat Cummins (@patcummins30) March 2, 2022
As such, he believes his role will vary between strike weapon and containment option as the series unfolds.
But while Cummins noted before the team’s departure that he expected the three-game campaign to feature “crushing” contests from which a draw would prove almost as valuable as a win, Lyon stick to their usual pre-series prediction of a draw. to sweep up.
“We haven’t played an away Test since 2019 so it’s going to be a big challenge,” he said.
“But it’s a very young and exciting Australian Test team we have here and we’ve just had a pretty spectacular summer at home which has given the group a lot of confidence.
“We work hard, we train hard and I’m going into this test series… to win three to zero, that’s purely my mindset.”
Qantas Tour of Pakistan 2022
Pakistani team: Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (vc), Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Fawad Alam, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Wasim, Nauman Ali, Naseem Shah, Sajid Khan, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Zahid Mahmood. Reserves: Sarfaraz Ahmed, Mohammad Haris
Australia Test Team: Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc , Mark Steketee, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner. Standby: Sean Abbott, Brendan Doggett, Nic Maddinson, Matthew Renshaw
March 4-8: First try, Rawalpindi
March 12-16: Second try, Karachi
March 21-25: Third try, Lahore
Australia ODI and T20 team: Aaron Finch (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Ben McDermott, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa
March 29: First ODI, Rawalpindi
March, 31st: Second ODI, Rawalpindi
April 2: Third ODI, Rawalpindi
April 5: Only T20I, Rawalpindi
All matches will be shown in Australia on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports