First Test preview: Pakistan v Australia

Recently usurped by South Africa at the helm of the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings, Australia will be determined to counter – against Pakistan – in the United Arab Emirates.

Captain Michael Clarke and the talented Mitchell Marsh have all but been passed fit, after nursing hamstring injuries. Marsh’s debut will probably mean fellow all-rounder Glenn Maxwell will be sidelined.

Plenty of overs of spin, then, will be left to the experienced Nathan Lyon and the promising Steve O’Keefe. The Aussies are not renowned for pairing specialist slow bowlers, but conditions in the gulf demand as much.

The Pakistan XI will be severely depleted, with fast bowler Junaid Khan absent due to injury and spinner Saeed Ajmal recently banned from bowling in international cricket due to an illegitimate arm action.

Pakistan A’s victory over the tourists last week, though, exposed some weaknesses. Coach Waqar Younis has publicly noted the shortfalls, without specifying, but reverse swing is effectively the frontrunner.

The Pakistan Cricket Board’s odd actions and consistent criticism of captain Misbah-ul-Haq often steers the limelight clear of the on-field proceedings. The team, though, will be presented with the ideal chance to shift the spotlight back.

Key Men
The need for spinner Zulfiqar Babar’s to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility grew exponentially in the wake of Ajmal’s suspension – and now is the time to turn plenty of promise into results.

Tipped as a future captain and in the form of his life in ODI cricket, all-rounder Mitchell Marsh will likely debut in Dubai. Perhaps more with the ball than the bat, the 23-year-old will prove key.

Last Five Head-To-Head Results
2010: Second Test: Pakistan won by three wickets in Leeds
2010: First Test: Australia won by 150 runs in London
2010: Third Test: Australia won by 231 runs in Hobart
2010: Second Test: Australia won by 36 runs in Sydney
2009: First Test: Australia won by 170 runs in Melbourne

Probable Playing XIs
Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed, Zulfiqar Babar, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Talha, Rahat Ali.

Australia: David Warner, Chris Rogers, Alex Doolan, Michael Clarke, Steven Smith, Mitchell Marsh, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Steven O’Keefe, Nathan Lyon.

Dates: 22-26 October
Morning session: 10:00-12:00 (06:00-08:00 GMT)
Afternoon session: 12:40-14:40 (08:40-10:40 GMT)
Evening session: 15:00-17:00 (11:00-13:00 GMT)
On-field umpires: Richard Kettleborough and Marais Erasmus
Third umpire: Nigel Llong
Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle