Australia vs Pakistan at Headlingley – Test preview
Pakistan will be looking to pick up the pieces after a demoralising 150-run loss to Australia at Lord’s, when the second Test of the series begins at Headingley tomorrow.
It was a match that marked the 13th straight Test victory for Ricky Ponting’s team against Pakistan as well as the end of Shahid Afridi’s captaincy after just one match at the helm, with the all-rounder declaring he didn’t have the temperament for Test cricket after his first attempt at playing the longest format of the game since 2006.
Afridi was due to play on in Leeds, though not as skipper, but a side strain has now ruled him out of the match, potentially leaving the door open for former captain Shoaib Malik to fill the vacant all-rounder position in the playing XI after being omitted from the first Test.
Salman Butt, who with innings’ of 63 and 92 at Lord’s was Pakistan’s one shining light with the bat, now takes over the leadership of the Test team for the remainder of the side’s tour of England, and his first challenge will be to at least guide his teammates to a competitive performance against the Aussies.
Aside from Afridi’s exit, reports suggest Pakistan is pondering at least one other change for this Test as they toy with the idea of replacing leg-spinner Danish Kaneria (who, with four wickets at Lord’s has done nothing to deserve being dropped for this match) with Saeed Ajmal’s off-spin, which has the attraction of potentially troubling the legion of left-handers in the Australia side.
While Australia won’t be looking to mess with a winning formula, seamer Ben Hilfenhaus may miss with a shoulder injury he picked up in a fielding incident at the home of cricket, a turn of events that would potentially hand paceman Peter George his Test debut. Batting all-rounder Marcus North, who added his name to the honours board at Lord’s with a six-wicket haul, has been suffering from a stomach upset in the lead-up to the final match of the series and could also miss out.
Should North fail to recover in time for the start of the match, Pakistan-born Usman Khawaja may get the chance to play his maiden Test for Australia, and if the 23-year-old were to join George in the team it would mean Australia had handed baggy greens to four new players for the series (with wicketkeeper-batsman Tim Pain and leg-spinner Steven Smith debuting in the last match).
Hilfenhaus’ potential absence, just one match after returning to Test cricket after nine months on the sidelines recovering from a knee injury, is another blow to Australia’s pace attack, which has struggled to reach full strength in recent times as a string of fast bowlers have battled injury woes.
The question is whether Pakistan’s inexperienced batsmen can exploit any possible weakness in it, with only Butt seeming to relish facing the Australians at Lord’s, though debutant Azhar Ali’s patient 42 and Kamran Akmal’s 46 in the second innings of the match showed promise.
Pakistan’s seamers, assisted by conditions conducive to swing bowling, demonstrated they could be dangerous at Lord’s, but will be hoping they can be even more damaging in Leeds, and they are the main strength in the side. Their the first big challenge of the match will be to extract watchful opener Simon Katich (who scored 80 and 83 in the first match of the series) from the crease early on in proceedings.
The problem Pakistan face though is that while Australia’s bowling attack may not be at full strength, their batting line-up is.
Ricky Ponting should be ready to put his Lord’s hoodoo behind him at a ground where in three previous outings he’s yet to finish a Test match without a half-century to his name and has a top score of 144; Michael Clarke, who showed plenty of class on his way to 47 in the first innings at Lord’s, will be looking to cement his new role as Australia’s No. 4 batsman; while North will only have fond memories of Leeds after making 110 there against England during last year’s Ashes.
It ultimately comes down to this: Australia are a highly professional side building towards the main goal of reclaiming the Ashes in the 2010/11 series; Pakistan are a side struggling for consistency and leadership, and six months after imploding in Australia are still lacking the stability and experience needed to perform at the highest level for five days.
And for those reasons, Australia look set to extend their winning run against Pakistan for a 14th consecutive Test.