Like Sri Lanka, Pakistan have opted for three T20s to start their tour. Perhaps that is a financial imperative as CA want to fill the airwaves with cricket as fully as possible and there is nothing wrong with that if the cricket is of high standard. Pakistan play on November 3, 5 and 8, then have some longer warm-up fixtures as they work toward the first Test on November 21 at The Gabba. They have slightly different squads for T20 and Tests, as you would expect, but the move of major note is the ruthlessness of new coach and selector Misbah Ul-Haq.
Long-term captain and wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed has been dropped for youngster Mohammed Rizwan. Likewise stalwart left-arm quick Wahab Riaz and opening batsmen Mohammed Hafeez haven’t made the plane. Both of those players made their debuts back in 2008 when Misbah was just regaining his place in the team after the ill-fated 2007 World Cup when Pakistan didn’t get out of the group stage. Immediately following that Caribbean campaign, when coach Bob Woolmer died, a new Pakistan Cricket Board made changes to selectors, players, leadership and coaching staff. I coached the team for 18 months from late 2007 to mid 2009.
Shoaib Malik was given the captaincy and Misbah, who had been spectacularly successful in all forms of the game in Pakistan domestic cricket, was brought back into the international fold. Soon thereafter Misbah was captain and rarely in Pakistan cricket history has the national team been so disciplined or consistent than under his baton.
Misbah’s elevation in September to replace South African Mickey Arthur as head coach after another poor World Cup surprised many, coming as it did so soon after retirement as a player – not so much that his experience and knowledge wasn’t of a superior level but that his coaching experience was next to zero.
One of the greatest traps for ex-players is that they think they can coach at first-class level, let alone international level, when they have no experience. Playing is a totally different kettle of fish to coaching, although those who have captained tend to be better, sooner. Misbah then took out the daily double by convincing the PCB that he should be chief selector as well, a feat comparable to convincing the federal government that they need a comprehensible Murray-Darling water plan.
Misbah brings a group with a mixture of youth and experience. His squad contains some competitive seam bowlers, from veteran Mohammed Abbas, who destroyed Australia on the grassless UAE pitches, to left-arm teen Shaheen Afridi, who will be key to challenging Australia’s top order.
His T20 squad has Usman Qadir, the son of Pakistan leg-spinning legend Abdul, who died suddenly in September of a heart attack. Usman used to come to the National Cricket Academy in Lahore at age 14 and bowl to Misbah, Younus Khan, Mohammed Yousef, Hafeez and Malik over a decade ago. His father’s wrist spin academy was a mere long hop away on the other side of the NCA boundary fence. He was something special even at that age.
Usman played club cricket in Sydney and then with Perth Scorchers and had expressed a desire to play for Australia, but perhaps his father’s dying wish was for him to follow in his footsteps. Who could blame him for changing course? At this point the Test line-up has Yasir Shah as the main spin weapon, so Usman may have to wait. Maybe if he spins a web around Warner, Smith and co during the T20s he could get a call-up.
It will not be straightforward for Pakistan to acclimatise given the T20 introduction and then a couple of outings on the quicker Perth Stadium in the three-day match with Australia A (a virtual selection trial for some Australian batsmen) and two days on the WACA against a WA XI. Misbah’s challenges will be many and varied on foreign soil.
As the tourists adapt to change, perhaps too the Australian fans will acclimatise to the new prelude to summer. After all, the Sheffield Shield has been swinging along nicely, the WBBL is nearly a month old and the domestic one-day Marsh Cup heads towards finals, but still the main course awaits.
Geoff Lawson is a cricket columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.