LONDON: Shahid Afridi leads a mercurial Pakistan into the first Test at Lord’s today aiming for a milestone the team has not achieved in almost 15 years: beat Australia in a Test match.
Pakistan last defeated Australia in December 1995 under Wasim Akram’s captaincy and despite returning to the ground where Afridi’s leg-bye took Pakistan to the 2009 World Twenty20 glory, the captain has opted to remain more focussed on performance rather than results.
“It’s true that we’ve not beaten them for 15 years but winning or losing doesn’t really matter at this stage,” said Afridi on the eve of the match. “We need to play good cricket and forget what has happened in the past - the series whitewash in Australia, the World Twenty20 last year. This is a totally different scenario and they’re one of the best sides in the world when it comes to Tests.”
The Test will be the first neutral Test since 1912 and both captains agreed that taking the field at Lord’s and not playing the hosts will be a weird feeling.
While the feelings remained mutual, the results coming into the two-match series have remained contrasting. Pakistan won back-to-back matches against Australia with a pleasing performance in the tour-matches. Australia, prior to the Twenty20 whitewash, lost the One-Day International series against the hosts 3-2.
“Playing at a neutral venue is definitely different and difficult but we are now getting used to it. England is a good place to play cricket and what we have watched of England playing Australia and Bangladesh, the pitches look different and batsmen-friendly. So I expect a good batting pitch at Lord’s.”
While Pakistan seem keen to introduce youngsters in the side following the forced absence of former captains Mohammad Yousuf and Younus Khan, Australian captain Ricky Ponting, who has scored almost 1,500 Test runs against Pakistan at an average of 76, remained unperturbed by what the youth may offer.
“They’ve had a few changes in their side but there’s no real surprise for us in there,” said Ponting.
“None of the current players will worry us too much as they’ve lost their classiest batsman [Mohammad Yousuf], the guy who looked the most dangerous in Australia [during Pakistan’s tour]. But as with any Pakistani side, this one’s got flare and there’s a lot of excitement about them.
“We just need to ensure that we don’t give them a chance to play their best cricket.”
Keeping Australia’s recent results in mind, Afridi termed the Lord’s Test a great opportunity to turn the tables against the opposition Pakistan has not done well against in the past - winning only 11 of the 55 Tests played between the two countries.
“If we play to our potential, we can certainly beat them. They don’t have Shane Warne, Glen McGrath and Matthew Hayden. We have a really good chance to do well against them. Our bowling’s our strength and I hope if we put a good total, our bowlers will pose a lot of problems for them.”
Australian captain Ricky Ponting
“There have been few changes in their side but there’s no real surprise for us in there. None of the current players will worry us too much as they’ve lost their classiest batsman [Mohammad Yousuf].”
Pakistan coach Waqar Younis
“We have a very young but exciting side and I think they are really looking forward to these Test matches. It is a tough tour for the youngsters, but also a learning tour for them. In many ways, it is like a restart for Pakistan.”
Former captain Aamir Sohail
“Australians are favourites but through hard work and converting their chances Pakistan can stun them. Opener Salman Butt will be the player to watch out while Umar Akmal holds the key in the middle-order.”
Former chief selector Abdul Qadir
“Pakistan’s team management took a bold step by giving youngsters preference over the senior players in this series. Butt and the Akmal brothers are the key batsmen and Umar Gul’s experience will come in handy.”
Former chief selector Iqbal Qasim
“Pakistan have a strong bowling attack and if it gets support from the batsmen then they have a very good chance to win. Inclusion of youngsters is a welcome sign, hopefully they will avail the chance.”
Former player Mushtaq Ahmed
“Pakistan bowlers have the ability to bowl out the Australians twice but the batsmen will have to score. Younus Khan and Yousuf will be missed but this is the perfect time for the youngsters to show their talent.”
Former captain Zaheer Abbas
“Pakistan are a very good side that has always done well in England but the boys would have to be accurate in the field. Their catching has to be really good, and that is going to be the main difference.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2010.
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