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Pakistan's Tour Of Australia 2023-24, AUS Vs PAK 1st Test Preview: Nathan Lyon Eyes 500th Test Scalp As WTC Champions Take On Pakistan

Pakistan begin a new era under the leadership of Shan Masood as they take on WTC champions Australia in Perth in the 1st Test starting on December 14, 2023

Pakistan skipper Shan Masood (left) poses with the trophy alongside Pat Cummins of Australia
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Nathan Lyon's quest for his 500th Test wicket will be one of the individual features of the series opener between Australia and Pakistan beginning on Thursday at Perth Stadium.(Streaming | More Cricket News)

The 36-year-old offspinner goes into the match with 496 wickets, poised to join Shane Warne (708) and Glenn McGrath (563) as one of the only Australians to take 500 wickets in Test cricket.

Perth Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for Lyon in the past: he has taken 22 wickets in three Tests at an average of 18.45, leading Pakistan to identify him as one of their key figures in the first Test and three-match series.

“As a team from the subcontinent, we normally play offspinners really well,” Pakistan team director Mohammad Hafeez said. “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.”

Australia vice-captain Steve Smith backed Lyon to make a strong return after missing the latter part of the Ashes series in England with a calf muscle injury, describing the veteran spinner as one of - if not the — most valuable players in the team.

“There's no doubt we missed Nathan at the back end of the Ashes,” Smith said. “What he brings to the attack and the control and different tempos — he can play defensive roles, he can play an attacking role and he's got all the tricks.

“And, closing in on 500 wickets — that's a serious feat in itself."

Lyon is unconcerned that the curator at Perth has predicted a hard and bouncy pitch for the so-called “West Test.” That follows the relatively slow surface for last summer's test against the West Indies.

“I like playing my role here,” Lyon said. “I enjoy bowling here, there's nice bounce on offer and it's a nice place to bowl. The wicket looks like a typical Perth wicket. It's all good signs.”

A fast and bouncy pitch would suit Australia's fast bowlers and Pakistan paceman Shaheen Shah Afridi.

“Shaheen in particular with the new ball, the ability to bring it back down the line to the right-handers is always a threat,” Smith said. “Any left-armer that can do that at good pace, it's a skill that we don't see too often.

“I think he's improved a lot since he last came out here four years ago.”

Pakistan has many challenges to overcome in the Test series, notably its history of poor performances in Australia. In Tests between the teams in Australia, Australia has won 26, Pakistan has won four and there have been seven draws.

The teams last met in Pakistan in 2022 when Australia won a three-Test series 1-0. Australia also has an unbeaten record in the three Tests it has played at Perth Stadium, which has replaced the WACA as Western Australia's premier cricket arena.

Australia heads into the match as the World Test Champion and with a full-strength squad, with Mitch Marsh holding out fellow West Australian Cameron Green for the allrounder spot and Lyon returning from injury.

Travis Head, voted player of the match in Australia's World Cup final win over India last month and in the World Test Championship final, has been elevated to be a co-vice captain of the test squad with Smith. Both are deputies for skipper Pat Cummins.

“The personality that he brings to the team is something that we all love,” Cummins said Wednesday. "And, I think you see it in the way he plays his cricket, there's a certain amount of freedom to it.

“He takes the game on and he enjoys it. He's always got a smile on his face. He's great at bringing the team together for team morale ... so he's got all the makings of a really strong leader."

Shan Masood, replacing Babar Azam as captain, said leading Pakistan to a test win in Australia for the first time since 1995 is a priority for the tour.

“It would mean the world to us,” he said. "We want to go forward as a side, play attractive test cricket.

“For us, it's about the bigger picture — making sure we can compete against the best. And, this is the perfect opportunity to do so.”

Pakistan had a final pitch inspection before selecting pace bowlers Aamir Jamal and Khurram Shahzad for their debut Tests to support Shaheen Afridi. Sarfaraz Ahmed was preferred to Mohammad Rizwan as wicketkeeper in what is Pakistan's second test series of 2023.

“We all love playing Test cricket, it's the ultimate, it's the pinnacle," Masood said. “I think by being a side that is a winning side, that produces results at home and overseas, we might get more test cricket in the future.”

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Playing XI
Australia
: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Mitch Marsh, Alex Carey (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins (c), Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood.

Pakistan: Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Shan Masood (c), Babar Azam, Saud Shakeel, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Salman Ali Agha, Faheem Ashraf, Shaheen Afridi, Aamir Jamal and Khurram Shahzad.
Match starts: 7.50 AM (IST)

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