Pakistan's absences give Australia chance to start strongly
Pakistan lose Hasan Ali, Faheem Ashraf to injury for first Australia Test
Haris Rauf ruled out of first Test against Australia after testing positive for Covid-19
Pakistan vs Australia key match-ups: Babar vs Hazlewood, short ball vs Smith, Shaheen Shah Afridi vs everyone
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Pakistan are seriously considering giving a Test debut to Mohammad Wasim Jr at Rawalpindi, potentially as part of a five-man bowling attack.
The pair were central to Pakistan's Test side last year, Hasan as a frontline pacer (who was third-highest Test wicket-taker of the year) and Faheem as the allrounder Pakistan have needed for years.
And now, just over a day out from the Test, the suggestion in the Pakistan camp seems to be that they might play three fast bowlers - Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem and Wasim Jr - as well as both Nauman Ali and Sajid Khan as the spinners.
The problem for Pakistan is that Faheem's absence in particular upsets their Test balance, depriving them of a genuine two-in-one player. At No.7 he has often stalled collapses or built on middle-order work - only seven times in 19 innings has he failed to make at least 20 - while as a fifth bowler he has provided respite to the leaders of Pakistan's attack, keeping a tight rein on run-rates and picking up crucial wickets: in 13 out of 23 innings, he has picked up at least one wicket and his overall economy is 2.9.
Iftikhar's initial call-up suggested Pakistan might lean on his off-spin as a part-time option, while bolstering the batting with him at No.7 - he has a first-class average of 40.34.
However, the nature of the Rawalpindi pitch is probably playing into the three-quicks option. Though it has tended to favour seam bowling, the pitch for this Test, until Wednesday at least, looked fairly dry with little grass. Nathan Lyon likened it to the kind of UAE surface on which Australia have played four Tests against Pakistan in recent years - runs over the initial period, before some spin and reverse comes into play.
That - as well as Australia's susceptibility to spin in the subcontinent - explains why Pakistan want to play both Nauman and Sajid. The trade-off then is whether they choose to beef up their batting - with Iftikhar - or their pace attack. At the moment they appear to be leaning towards the latter.
Whatever the conditions Wasim Jr's inexperience in longer-format cricket represents somewhat of a risk. He has only played seven first-class matches to date, though his performances in those Quaid-e-Azam trophy games have been promising. It also means that all three fast bowlers are genuinely quick, which, given what the surface looks like, might be important.
And yet, though Wasim Jr is a promising hitter in T20 cricket, batting at No. 7 in a Test - where he will likely play if he debuts - against one of the world's best bowling attacks will be an examination unlike any he has faced.
In the absence of Abid Ali, Pakistan will already be trying a new opening combination, with either Shan Masood or Imam-ul-Haq partnering Abdullah Shafique, who himself has only played two Tests. That puts a burden on a middle order made up of an ageing Azhar Ali, Babar Azam without a Test century in two years and 18 innings (averaging 38), and the engine room of Fawad Alam and Mohammad Rizwan.