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Looking at individual contests in a home Test series for Australia against Pakistan is a bit like trying to analyse the specific differences between the polar bear and the baby seal it eats. The mismatch is so overwhelming it’s scarcely worth talking about the variances in muscle mass, the speed across the tundra or the contrasts in bite force. One is the biggest mammal on land, the other would rather be in water. What’s there to talk about?

Over the past quarter century, the chasm between the Australian and Pakistani Test sides in this hemisphere is just about as wide. Pakistan have come for five series and 14 Test matches, losing every single one of them. These two nations might be far apart when it comes to geography, but when it comes to cricketing ability in Australia, the gulf has been even wider. Four of those 14 losses have been innings defeats, another four by a margin of at least 170 runs, and another three by nine or more wickets. Defeats have come across the length and breadth of this country from – Perth to Hobart – and the odd close game, like Hobart 1999 or Sydney 2010, have probably caused more psychological scarring than the regular pastings in between.

Ultimately though, the bigger picture can invariably be broken down into the minutiae. In cricket, where individuals pitted against each other is a central aspect of this contest, Australia have tended to overwhelm Pakistan. That isn’t necessarily the case across every matchup, though, with possible encouragement for the visiting side in certain aspects, and clear areas of improvement necessary in others. We look at a few of those.

Josh Hazlewood vs Babar Azam

Babar and Hazlewood first faced off as teenagers in the Under-19 World Cup, with Hazlewood coming out on top that day in New Zealand and Australia winning by 25 runs. The script hasn’t changed since, with Hazlewood getting him out on six occasions and Babar averaging just over 11 against him.

Each of those dismissals have come in Australia, most early on in the innings. It is the seam movement that has done Babar in almost every time – he fell four times nicking off behind the stumps, while failing to read the one coming in twice and finding himself trapped in front.

However, most of these dismissals came on Pakistan’s 2016-17 tour when Babar was yet to find his feet in Tests. While Hazlewood remains the same bowler – relentlessly accurate across his lines and lengths – that has troubled Babar for much of his career. Babar, unencumbered by the captaincy, has an opportunity to remedy this record. An indifferent recent run in Test cricket, though, with no half-centuries in the last six innings, doesn’t bode well against the bowler who has troubled him more than any other. With a possible long tail and an inexperienced batting line-up, Pakistan will rely on his runs more than they did on either of his previous two tours. If he can turn the tide in this personal battle, it may go a long way in ensuring Pakistan are more competitive than they have previously been.

Australia’s left-handers vs slow left arm

Abrar Ahmed’s injury all but confirms Noman Ali featuring in Pakistan’s starting XI come Thursday. They are understood to be reluctant to field an all-pace attack, and while Sajid Khan is on his way to Australia, the first Test likely arrives too soon for him.

That is worrying for Pakistan. Australia have three left-handers in their top seven, and while Sajid wasn’t impressive at home against Australia last year, each of Usman Khawaja, Travis Head and David Warner boast phenomenally impressive records against slow left-arm bowling at home.

They have combined for 690 runs against just four dismissals, each averaging over 100. They score quickly against slow left-armers too, with Warner scoring at 93.90 and Khawaja at 70.50. The extra pressure on Noman could force Shan Masood to turn back to his seamers sooner than he wants or, even less desirably, employ part-time spinners, as Pakistan did on occasion against Australia last year.

Shaheen Shah Afridi vs Marnus Labuschagne

Labuschagne’s unimpressive numbers against left-arm pace in Tests comes largely down to one man. Of the nine times Labuschagne has had to walk off against left-arm pace, Shaheen Afridi was the man to get him five times. His 85 runs against Afridi have come at 17 per dismissal, and a strike rate a shade above 2.6, and five of Labuschagne’s seven dismissals against Pakistan have come against him.

His battle with Shaheen was one of the few bright spots for Pakistan on Australia’s attritional tour to the country in 2022, with Labuschagne notably struggle against the inswinging delivery early on. While the numbers might flatter Afridi slightly – his two wickets against the Australian on Pakistan’s last Test tour arrived when Labuschagne was on 185 and 162 – getting Labuschagne in early could well be the key to getting him back out soon.

Nathan Lyon vs Pakistan

A punchy Mohammad Hafeez, fuming from what he declared a disappointing pitch in Canberra for Pakistan’s tour game, promised Pakistan were out in Australia to win the series. And the route to doing that was clear in his mind. “As a team from the subcontinent, we normally play offspinners really well. In the last couple of series we had a high strike rate against Nathan Lyon. That will remain the same. We know Lyon is a great bowler, but as a team we are confident we will take him on.” When asked to clarify if that meant Pakistan would have to take Lyon on, Hafeez was terse in his reply. “We will.”

While that might sound like a departure from how Pakistan play against Australia, that hasn’t necessarily been the case. Hafeez – perhaps pointedly – said Lyon was a “great away bowler” for Australia, possibly in an attempt to strip him of his aura on these surfaces. In Australia, Lyon’s success against Pakistan has been relatively modest. Only against Sri Lanka does he have a worse home average than Pakistan’s 41.66 runs per wicket, and as regards to taking him on, Pakistan have tended to do just that. Against no other side at home has he conceded more than one run every two balls, but against Pakistan, the economy rate climbs to 3.37.

In short, he is more expensive and less penetrative against Pakistan at home than just about anyone else. While much of the spin bowling scrutiny has surrounded Pakistan’s lack of quality, there is an opportunity for them to ensure Australia are equally hampered on that front.

Source: https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/the-four-big-battles-that-could-define-pakistan-vs-australia-1412505

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Muhammad Azaan

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