2010 has arrived and the New Year’s Sydney Test, which begins today, is once again upon us. The locals normally flock to the Sydney Cricket Ground to watch what has become a great tradition.
The performance by the Australian team in the Melbourne Boxing Day test was phenomenal. It was one of the best all-round performances for a long time against a reasonable side.
However, Pakistan would be disappointed with their effort because they know they are better than that. There were glimpses, but not much else. But they will have a chance to rectify over the next five days as they go up against an Australian team determined not to give Pakistan an inch.
The Aussies haven’t put a foot wrong this summer so far. Whether batting, bowling or fielding, they look on top of their game after such a humiliating Ashes loss to England last year.
Shane Watson and Simon Katich look in superb form at the top of the order, with Watson’s maiden test century a just reward after years of torment and frustration. You could almost hear the sigh of relief exhaled by Watson when he scampered through for a quick single that took him from 99 to 100. However the form of batsmen Mike Hussey and Marcus North is a concern, with each only making one score of 50 or more for the summer. It is do or die for both of them in this test.
Australia’s two left-arm fast bowlers, Mitchell Johnson and Doug Bollinger, are in hot form at the moment. The summer has belonged to them so far, with Johnson taking 23 wickets in four matches and the equally impressive Bollinger taking 18 in three matches. The Boxing Day test was also a breakthrough for off-spinner Nathan Hauritz, who bagged his first five-wicket haul to bowl Australia to victory on the final day. More importantly, it was a confidence booster for Hauritz who had been under an enormous amount of pressure to bowl Australia to victory from the media.
As for selection, there is an injury cloud hanging over Katich at the moment, who is apparently suffering from an elbow injury. Phillip Hughes, a more than capable replacement, is on standby in case Katich isn’t fit to play. Here is how the unchanged team from Melbourne should line-up:
1. Shane Watson
2. Simon Katich (If unfit, Phillip Hughes)
3. Ricky Ponting (Captain)
4. Michael Hussey
5. Michael Clarke
6. Marcus North
7. Brad Haddin (Wicket-Keeper)
8. Mitchell Johnson
9. Nathan Hauritz
10. Peter Siddle
11. Doug Bollinger
Pakistan, unlike the West Indies who toured before them, came to Australia with the potential to be truly competitive with Australia. We saw highlights of what they can produce in Melbourne, but it was their inexperience and a little bit of undiscipline that cost them dearly.
Stand-in Captain Mohammad Yousuf, one of the most attractive batsmen to watch in the world, holds the key to Pakistan’s hopes. His 61 in the second innings was classy and mature, but unfortunately he had little support when he needed it. There was talk after the Melbourne test that usual skipper Younis Khan, who is currently refusing to play due to disagreements with certain players, would return for the Sydney test. However, those rumours were quashed by Yousuf. Overall, their batting line-up is inexperienced and the more test cricket Pakistan play, the better they will become.
From a bowling perspective, Pakistan was hurt by the pathetic performance of Abdur Rauf. He failed to look threatening with the ball, but it was his appalling fielding that not only let his own team down, but let his opposition back into the game. Hopefully, he learnt from such a horrid performance, but it is extremely likely he will be dropped for the return of leg-spinner Danish Kaneria.
There were some positives to come out of Melbourne for Pakistan though. Umar Akmal’s exciting 51 on the third day showed why he has been labelled a future star of the game. Misbah-ul-haq’s mature innings of 65* was encouraging. But the biggest story was the electrifying bowling of 17 year-old sensation Mohammad Aamer, who took his first 5 wicket haul and had experienced batsman such as Ricky Ponting in tangle.
Pakistan will likely play two spinners because Sydney is known to show a liking towards spin as a test match progresses. Here is how the team should line-up:
1. Imran Farhat
2. Salman Butt
3. Faisal Iqbal
4. Mohammad Yousuf
5. Umar Akmal
7. Kamran Akmal
8. Mohammad Aamer *
9. Mohammad Asif
10. Danish Kaneria
11. Saeed Ajmal
* UPDATE – since this piece was first published, Aamer has been ruled out due a groin injury.
The SCG is known for being Australia’s spinning paradise. However this year seems to favour the paceman a bit more, with recent rain providing more tinges of green on the surface. Curator Tony Parker says that there is more grass than usual on the strip, which means extra assistance for pace bowlers in the first three days. But the last two days will favour spin, which is why Pakistan will rely on Yousuf and the rest of their batsmen to bat through the opening few days, therefore allowing Ajmal and Kaneria to weave their magic on days four and five. Australia will take in three pace bowlers and will try and win the game early.
Who will win and why?
Australia are in as good as form for quite some time and there is no reason why they can’t win. However, now that the relatively inexperienced Pakistan side have had a game to adapt to Australian conditions, they will certainly be more competitive this time. Pakistan’s impatience with bat remains their main impediment, and Australia’s ever-growing confidence with the ball should see them win comfortably.
Australia to win by 100 runs+ (if they bat first)
Ben Waterworth is a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. He also writes regularly for upstart about AFL. His most recent article was a review of Australian sporting acheivement in the noughties.