Australia’s series against Pakistan heads to Karachi this weekend where the second Test starts on Saturday (4pm AEDT).
After a tepid sparring match between the two nations in Rawalpindi, the three-match series is set to burst to life in conditions that will put Australia to the test.
Australia has never won in Karachi, and is almost certain to make changes to its XI as Pakistan prepares to launch an all-out attack.
These are the Burning Questions facing Australia heading into the second Test.
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WILL THE WICKET BE LIFELESS AGAIN?
It’s hard to say how lively the wicket in Karachi will be but one thing’s for sure, it can’t be any worse than what was served up in Rawalpindi.
The wicket for the first Test was one of the worst in Test cricket in recent memory.
As it turns out, that may not have simply been a coincidence.
Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja effectively confirmed after the Test that it was part of the strategy to serve up a road in Rawalpindi, where seamers have historically performed better than spinners.
In the end, only 14 wickets fell in the Test with spin bowling accounting for 10 of them. One of the world’s best seamers, Josh Hazlewood, went wicketless, as did Mitchell Starc and Cameron Green.
Ramiz said that doubts about the form of Pakistan’s openers, injuries to their quicks Hasan Ali and Faheem Ashraf, and Australia’s fast bowling strength played a factor in preparing the pitch.
“Just for the heck of it, we can’t prepare a fast pitch or a bouncy pitch and put the game in Australia’s lap,” Ramiz said in a video posted on PCB’s Twitter account, and translated by ESPNCricinfo†
“It’s important that when we play at home, we play to our strengths. We also had limited resources, unfortunately.”
It’s not a stretch to say that Pakistan was more than happy taking a draw to Karachi where it has never lost to Australia.
Take that with a pinch of salt considering this is Australia’s first tour since 1998, but it doesn’t change the fact that Pakistan will feel far more confident of achieving a result in Karachi.
A more typical subcontinental wicket is expected, one that is low and slow and dusts up for the spinners. Situated south on the Arabian Sea, temperatures are expected to be much higher than in Rawalpindi in the nation’s far north.
Spinners average 32.54 in Karachi — eight runs less than in Rawalpindi — and Pakistan has plenty of tweaking options to chose from.
Their batters are also better accustomed to playing spin bowling on low tracks compared to Australia, which has on average faced only 14.8 overs against a specialist spinner per Test since the summer of 2020-21.
Furthermore, Australia’s only specialist spin options to partner Nathan Lyon are uncapped Mitchell Swepson, and the left-arm orthodox Ashton Agar, who hasn’t played a Test in nearly five years.
As such, it’s no surprise that Pakistan is clearly targeting this Test as its best chance to take a series lead.
“We need to beat Australia and we need to prepare our strategy accordingly,” Ramiz said.
“The strategy is for low-bouncy tracks where reverse can happen, where LBW and bowled will be in play, where our spinners can show their performance and where the batters, who have grown up on low-bounce pitches, can utilize that advantage. ”
DOES AUSTRALIA PICK TWO SPINNERS?
Pat Cummins isn’t a selector, but strongly hinted that Australia would head in that direction having missed out on a second specialist spinner in Rawalpindi.
The demand for the services of another tweaker is expected to be particularly high in Karachi where conditions will likely favor the spinners more.
It leaves Swepson as a likely Test debutant on Saturday after years of being around the team as a reserve.
There’s doubt about whether the Queensland leg-spinner has what it takes to perform at Test level.
At 28 years of age, he should be in his prime, but his first class numbers of 154 wickets at 34.55 aren’t enough to garner widespread excitement.
Most indicative of this doubt is the fact that selectors have happily kept him around the Australian set-up for some time, but have always baulked at giving him a baggy green.
But he’s likely about to get his long-awaited chance to show that he belongs at the highest level, with Cummins saying after the first Test that two spinners is “probably the way to go”.
His only competition for a second spinning position is left-arm orthodox Agar.
Agar’s ability to spin the ball away from Pakistan’s right-hand heavy batting order will be an enticing prospect — as will his international experience, including two Tests in Bangladesh.
Wrist-spinner Swepson is still expected to get the nod as Australia looks to add some sorely-needed attacking options into its XI.
There is, however, the possibility for Agar to be picked as well in a three-spin attack — more on this below.
WHO MISSES OUT, AND WHY?
This will largely come down to exactly what is happening under the covers in Karachi.
Interim coach and selector Andrew McDonald said that Australia is open to picking anywhere between one and three spinners, if the conditions call for it.
If they do, that would suggest the selection of Nathan Lyon, Swepson and agar.
Determining who Swepson replaces is more straightforward than the matter of where Agar would slot in.
Swepson would be a straight swap for a seamer. Given Pat Cummins is captain, that leaves Josh Hazlewood or Mitchell Starc to come out.
Both went wicketless in Rawalpindi and failed to pose any genuine problems for Pakistan’s top order.
It seems Hazlewood would be more likely to come out than Starc given he’s fresh from a long lay-off — he hadn’t played red ball cricket since the first Ashes Test — and it’s a short turnaround.
Completing two Tests in the space of 13 days would be a big ask for a bowler who has only played two Tests in three months.
Starc is also Australia’s best exponent of reverse swing — expected to be more of a factor in Karachi than Rawalpindi — while the left-armer’s creation of scuff marks for Lyon to aim at later in the Test will be an important factor.
Agar’s selection, however, throws up the possibility of Cameron Green sitting out.
It seems unlikely that any of the top five batters will be axed for two all-rounders. The top four are all big names who made runs in Rawalpindi, while Travis Head was the Ashes player-of-the-series.
Green remains a long-term No.6 for Australia, but could still be vulnerable to the ax in Karachi for a horses-for-courses style selection.
The all-rounder was used sparingly with the ball in the first Test while he looked nervy with the bat before throwing his wicket away on 48.
Selectors are already taking a cautious approach with Green’s bowling workloads after back injuries in his career.
Agar replacing Green would also swap a right-hander with a left-hander. That’s worth noting after left-arm orthodox spinner Nauman Ali took six wickets in Rawalpindi, with four being right-handers, including Green.
It’s extremely likely Green would immediately return to Australia’s XI, but leaving him out for Agar in spinning conditions is not a selection call without merit.
IS ALEX CAREY UNDER GENUINE THREAT?
It seems likely that Alex Carey will get the entire Pakistan series to cement his spot.
After that, the waters are a little murky.
Carey went into the Pakistan series somewhat under threat — a result of shaky performances during the summer’s Ashes.
But just five Tests into his career, selectors were right to give the wicketkeeper more time to come good in the Australian whites with both the bat and behind the stumps.
The selectors’ ideal scenario would be for Carey to send a statement in Pakistan to save them from having to make an awkward decision after the series.
As things stand after one Test, Carey remains far from a long-term lock with concerns still surrounding both his glovework and batting.
The first innings wasn’t the cleanest display from Carey.
He arguably showed a lack of confidence in not at least attempting to take an outside edge that fell short of first slip early in the innings.
Later, he went on to drop a chance — albeit a difficult one — down leg side to Lyon, while he missed multiple deliveries that span hard and kicked off the wicket.
Meanwhile, he successfully gloved another chance but ruled out a review with confidence, only for replays to show there was a genuine outside edge.
With the bat, Carey got a peach late in the day from Naseem Shah but he was still found wanting technically. It was a big missed opportunity given the runs that flowed for both Pakistan and Australia’s top-order.
Carey’s Test average is now 20.20 after 10 innings.
More chances will come and it should be no surprise if Carey seizes the moment. He’s no stranger to the big stage with 89 international caps, including a fantastic display at the 2019 World Cup where he averaged 62.50.
He’ll need to show he can do it against the red ball soon, however, with highly-rated 26-year-old Josh Inglis waiting for a chance.