Complacency Pakistan's biggest enemy
Complacency will be Pakistan's biggest enemy when they take on minnows Bangladesh in the Asian Test Championship opener at the picturesque Multan Cricket Stadium from Wednesday.
The match itself will be the first-ever between the two countries. It will also be a unique incident when a Test centre will also be making its first-class debut. This implies that the conditions to the defending champions will be as alien as to the tourists who have lost all their previous three Tests since getting into the elite circle last year.
Irrespective of the unknown conditions, there is no reason to believe that Waqar Younis' men will not come out comfortable winners because of the experience and prowess they have in their ranks and also considering that Bangladesh lack experience at this level.
But while saying this, it should not be forgotten that Pakistan had also started as odds on favourites against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and England in the last three years only to end up on the losing side. Their other home series defeat since 1998 was against Australia while their last home series win dates back to 1997 when Wasim Akram's men whitewashed the troubled-hit West Indies.
Hopefully, this season, which will also see New Zealand visit for a three-Test series, will begin on the right foot. And the key to success in this season opener will be a combined team effort and thorough professional performance.
The recent controversies triggered by the selectors when they played musical chairs with former captain Wasim Akram, or Waqar Younis' threat of quitting if not consulted over the composition of the team, or the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Lt Gen Tauqir Zia's baseless and flimsy allegations against the print media need to be kept aside.
The business has started and all concentration should be on how the players will perform rather than blow the trumpets as to whatever happened this month which, by all counts, conveyed negative signals domestically and internationally and surely left a black spot on Pakistan cricket.
Pakistan are likely to award Test caps to left-handed opener Taufiq Umer and off-spinner Shoaib Malik which means Faisal Iqbal might carry the towels. Traditionally, Pakistan announce their playing XI shortly before the toss. But considering the pitch, in all likelihood, the reigning champions will go in with five frontline batsmen, three pacers (including Abdur Razzaq), two spinners with Rashid Latif behind the stumps.
The wicket although has a green top, but the scorching hot and humid conditions here is expected to dry the moisture underneath the surface and juice from the wicket as early as late first session of Wednesday's play. It will be then when the spinners will be more effective than the fast bowlers.
Bangladesh have decided to retain the same team that earned a draw in the three-dayer against the PCB XI at the UBL Sports Complex in Karachi last week. Al Shariar will serve as the 12th man.
While Saeed Anwar will be hoping to score the required 49 runs to become the sixth Pakistani to complete 4,000 Test runs behind Javed Miandad, Salim Malik, Zaheer Abbas, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mudassar Nazar, Inzamam will be looking forward to delight his home ground with an innings which has made him the backbone of the team.
Inzamam, who watched Vivian Richards blast Pakistan in the 1980-81 Test here from the Qasim Bagh Stadium general enclosure, slammed a century against Sri Lanka 11 years later in a One-day International and then returned to blitz a half century against Australia in 1994-95.
"I still remember Richards' innings. I would be hoping to play an innings of that class before my home crowd" Inzamam said.
Although the Asian Test Championship final is set between Pakistan and Sri Lanka even before the first ball in the tournament has been bowled after India pulled out, Bangladesh will be looking forward, to at least, collect some bonus points which are in the offing in the first 100 overs of the innings.
While the team winning the match by an innings will get 16 points and an outright victory will fetch 12 points, bonus points will be awarded in batting and bowling. Scoring 250-299 runs will earn one point, 300-349 will fetch two points, between 350-399 three points and above 400 runs four points.
In bowling, a side taking four to five wickets will get one point, six to seven will earn two points, eight to nine three points and four points for all 10 wickets.
It would be gross injustice to the stadium if a couple of lines of appreciation are not dedicated to the venue which is absolutely breathtaking and can be easily compared with the Gaddafi Stadium. The 30,000-capacity stadium is fully equipped with modern and highly quality facilities for the spectators. The facilities for media and players are also excellent. But lack of proper hotels is the only hurdle in Multan becoming a regular Test venue.
Pakistan: Saeed Anwar, Taufiq Umer, Younis Khan, Inzamam-ul- Haq, Yousuf Youhana, Abdur Razzaq, Rashid Latif, Shoaib Malik, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis (captain), Danish Kaneria. 12th man: Faisal Iqbal.
Reserves: Imran Nazir, Naved Latif, Irfan Fazil.
Bangladesh: Naimur Rahman (captain), Akram Khan, Aminul Islam, Enamul Hoque, Habibul Bashar, Hasibul Hossain, Javed Omar, Khaled Mashud, Manjural Islam, Mehrab Hossain, Mohammad Sharif. 12th man: Al Shariar (12th man). Reserves: Ranjan Das, Mohammad Ashraful.
Umpires: Darrell Hair (Australia) and Peter Manuel (Sri Lanka).
Third Umpire: Riazuddin (Pakistan).
Match Referee: John Reid (New Zealand).