Plenty of life left in dead rubber
Match FactsThursday, January 14
Start time 1030am (2330 GMT)
The Big PictureIt is in dead rubbers that the basis of cricket as an individual sport becomes clearest. But for the grace of Pakistan everyone would've come to Hobart much happier; the series is gone and with it the prospect of a good end to summer. Now attention turns to personal battles of form and there is enough to this Test to keep it sprightly.
To Pakistan first and who would have thought dropping a wicketkeeper who dropped four chances in the last Test - and it wasn't a one-off - would be so difficult? Not least of the confusion surrounding l'affaire de Kamran, as it will now be remembered, has come from the Pakistan camp itself; just as coach Intikhab Alam was definitively ruling him out on Tuesday, Kamran Akmal, definitively, was ruling himself in to an Australian newspaper.
He was finally ruled out as Pakistan, surprisingly, announced their playing XI a day before the Test. But the matter has overshadowed a number of other issues, namely the continuing failures of Faisal Iqbal and Misbah-ul-Haq in the middle order. Changes have been made and Shoaib Malik and Khurram Manzoor are back in but sending back Fawad Alam, who represents a future - in whatever form and shape - was a poor choice. Mohammad Aamer is back as well to give Pakistan, finally, it's first-choice attack and that is something that just hasn't happened in recent years. In all, there will be enough new faces from Sydney so that Pakistan are likely to have a fresh, energetic feel to them. They will be keen to prevent a 12th successive loss and a fourth successive whitewash against this particular opponent.
Australia are far more settled. Such messes they don't often find themselves in and when they do, they are generally quieter and handle it with greater grace and coherence. Still, there are little niggling things that don't quite sit right about their line-up just yet.
A lack of runs from their middle order is chief among them. Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Marcus North have two fifties each from six Tests this summer and the first two, at least, should be doing much more than that. Neither has looked particularly out of form, but that in itself can be a greater worry than being out of touch, as North appears to be. Some wickets for Peter Siddle would go down nicely as well, though his presence has never been a non-threatening one.
In the bigger picture this Test may not matter much, but within it there will be enough players for whom it matters a great deal and that makes for compelling viewing.
Form guideAustralia WWWDW
Watch out for...Shane Watson was the Test find of the year for Australia in 2009 and he started the new year in style with 97 at the SCG. In his five Tests this summer, Watson has collected 579 runs at 72.37. His quick scoring at the top of the order has been a key to Australia's positive results, even if scores of 96, 89, 93 and 97 have made him a tragi-comic figure. This will be Watson's first Test at Bellerive Oval, where he started his first-class career in 2000-01, and it was his home ground until he moved back to Queensland in 2004-05.
Who else but the wicketkeeper? Pakistan's handling of the Kamran Akmal/Sarfraz Ahmed issue has been abysmal and inept. On wicketkeeping form alone Akmal, who is 28 today, should have been dropped long ago, but his batting has kept him alive. Sarfraz is a safe keeper and though not as game-changing with the bat, he is no mug either, as success on an A tour to Australia last year proves. His debut tomorrow means it is the first time since October 2004 that anyone other than Akmal has put on the wicketkeeping gloves for Pakistan in a Test match.
Team newsThe only change for Australia is the return of Simon Katich, who missed the Sydney Test with an elbow problem. Phillip Hughes flew home to Sydney on Tuesday, having been released from the squad, leaving Clint McKay to serve as 12th man for the fourth consecutive match. Marcus North retained his place despite struggling for form this summer.
Australia 1 Shane Watson, 2 Simon Katich, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Hauritz, 10 Peter Siddle, 11 Doug Bollinger.
Pakistan have made four changes to the line-up that imploded in Sydney. Misbah and Iqbal are out, with Malik and Manzoor the beneficiaries. Aamer is fit again and has replaced Mohammad Sami, and Sarfraz has come in for Akmal.
Pakistan 1 Imran Farhat, 2 Salman Butt, 3 Khurram Manzoor, 4 Mohammad Yousuf (capt), 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Mohammad Aamer, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Danish Kaneria, 11 Mohammad Asif
Pitch and conditionsHobart is renowned as a swing bowler's paradise and if the conditions are overcast that is often the case. However, just as often there are big runs to be had and Ricky Ponting was expecting a surface on which his attack would have to work extra hard for their rewards. "It looks like a pretty good wicket now, a fair bit drier than it has been over the last couple of days," Ponting said. "As the state games have been this year, they've been pretty good batting wickets and it's been pretty hard to bowl sides out, so I'd imagine this might be the same." The first two days are likely to provide perfect, mild conditions but there could be showers over the final three days of the Test.
Stats and trivia
- It's 20 years since Bellerive Oval first hosted a Test but this is
the first time the venue has had a Test in the post-Christmas period
- In eight Tests at the venue, Australia have won six and drawn two -
they have never been beaten
- The ground hosted one of the most memorable Australian Tests in the
modern era, when Adam Gilchrist and Justin Langer rescued Australia from 5
for 126 to chase down 369 against Pakistan in 1999-2000
- Faisal Iqbal, Pakistan's No.3, has scored more runs (97) in this
series than his opposite number Ricky Ponting (80)
- Nathan Hauritz is the leading wicket-taker in the series so far with 12 wickets
Quotes"What we have to do down here is not let them get back into the game like we let them start in Sydney. There's still a lot of mystery around about them."
Ricky Ponting on the riddle that is Pakistan
"There is no doubt that Sarfraz will play."
Intikhab Alam, Pakistan's coach, puts an end to all speculation regarding Pakistan's wicketkeeper in Hobart
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.