Pakistan captain Babar Azam predicts another slow wicket will test the patience and skills of batters when the home team meet Australia in the decisive third and final Test on Monday at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
Babar played one of the epic knocks in the fourth innings of a test match when his marathon 196 defied Australia for over 10 hours and forced a draw at Karachi to keep the series locked at 0-0.
Australian spinners Nathan Lyon and debutant leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson bowled 108 of the 172 overs in the fourth innings at Karachi but Pakistan kept the visitors at bay by scoring 443-7 in over five sessions, falling short by 63 runs of the mammoth 506-run target.
The docile and lifeless wicket in the tame drawn test at Rawalpindi saw Australia picking up just four out of the 14 wickets to fall and the pitch at the Pindi Cricket Stadium also received one demerit point after being rated at “below average” by the ICC.
After receiving criticism on the Rawalpindi wicket, the Pakistan Cricket Board flew in ICC Academy curator Toby Lumsden, who has assisted the local ground staff to prepare the Lahore Test wicket.
“It's not much different, looks like the same pitch but I feel it will definitely give turn,” Babar told reporters via videoconference on Sunday. “It has small cracks from where spinners could get help, but you can't tell 100 per cent because of hot conditions. Whatever it is, our spinners are ready for it and will fight.”
The historic first tour of Australia to Pakistan since 1998 has an added significance going into the series decider. Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium will be hosting its first Test in 13 years since the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in 2009 which shut the doors of international cricket in Pakistan.
None of the Pakistan players have played a Test match at the Gaddafi Stadium where Babar made his ODI debut against Zimbabwe in 2015 when Pakistan started its campaign to win back the confidence of foreign teams and resume international cricket back home.
Test cricket resumed in Pakistan in 2019 when Sri Lanka toured Pakistan while Bangladesh and South Africa also played test matches, but in Karachi and Rawalpindi, rather than Lahore. “You have a different feeling when you play on your home ground and before your home crowd,” Babar said.
“Definitely, it will be a proud moment for all of us if we win the home series because we believe we are improving day by day.”
While Pakistan is still contemplating which of its spinners to take into the match, Australia has named an unchanged side which means Swepson will get another game to exhibit his leg-spin skills on a slow wicket with experienced off-spinner Lyon.
“Looks (wicket) quite similar,” Australia captain Pat Cummins said. “I can't say been too much different (wicket) from the other ones, so we feel like we've got all bases covered, if needed for a reverse swing or spin later in the game.”
Australia had its chances to go 1-0 up in the series at Karachi, but dropped three crucial catches which eventually led Pakistan to force an epic draw. Opening batter Abdullah Shafique went on to score 96 in the second innings after Steve Smith dropped a sitter in the slips when the batter was on 20.
Babar also got couple of reprieves when Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne dropped the Pakistan skipper on Swepson's successive deliveries just before tea on the last day. “It's a matter of taking those chances,” Cummins said.
“Wickets are premium in this series, so you can't afford to drop too many chances. We tried more than ten chances, but we just unfortunately didn't take it, that's going to be a challenge this week.” The slow nature of the wickets in Pakistan has encouraged Australia to leave out fast bowler Josh Hazlewood for the second successive Test match.
And Cummins said it was tough to leave out Hazlewood, but believed the reverse swing of Mitchell Starc could help Australia take 20 wickets in the last Test. “Reverse swing is going to be the biggest factor and I thought Starky played fantastic in the last test, taking three wickets in the first innings,” Cummins said.
“It's always tough leaving out someone like Joshy … but I think the class, the difference that Starky brings as a left armer, a bit more air speed, probably gives us the best chance-taking 20 wickets.”
Australia: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (captain), Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Nathan Lyon.
Pakistan: To be named.