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Josh Hazlewood

Australia v Pakistan: Key battles


The two-match Test series between Australia and Pakistan begins on 21 November in Brisbane. Here are some of the key contests to look forward to.

Mohammad Abbas v David Warner

Warner had an Ashes series to forget in England this year, where he aggregated only 95 runs in 10 innings. He's now back to his fluent best, scoring a century in his first game for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield last month, and following that up with 287 runs from six innings while being dismissed only once across two T20I series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan at home. He has a chance to extend that form against one of his favourite opponents, against whom he's scored 595 runs from nine innings, including three hundreds.

He'll be up against Mohammad Abbas, who took 17 wickets from two Tests when he last played against Australia, in the UAE last year, and is Pakistan's top-ranked bowler in the MRF Tyres ICC Test Rankings for bowlers.

Warner's downfall in England was brought about by Stuart Broad, who dismissed him on seven occasions out of 10, allowing the ball to skid through from good length while creating an inward angle from around the stumps. Abbas has troubled some established left-handers, such as former England captain Alastair Cook and South Africa opener Dean Elgar with similar lengths, and it won't come as a surprise if he employs those tactics against Warner. He will relish bowling in Brisbane and Adelaide, where significant assistance is expected for the new-ball bowlers. However, Warner's track record at both the venues can't be overlooked, and that builds up to an exciting contest.

Yasir Shah v Steve Smith

He was out of action for more than a year, but it didn't take long for Steve Smith to remind everyone of his class,. He aggregated 774 runs from seven innings at a staggering average of 110.57 in his comeback series in England, and regained the top position on the MRF Tyres ICC Test Rankings for batting. While his unorthodox technique is often talked about, bowlers around the world don't seem to have discovered any particular formula to trouble the Australian genius.

However, Yasir Shah, who has 203 wickets from 35 Tests, is a rare bowler who has had success against Smith. The leg-spinner has dismissed him on six occasions out of nine, including twice during their last head-to-head contest at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2016-17. Smith has been troubled by Rangana Herath, Ravindra Jadeja and Keshav Maharaj in the past – all of whom are left-arm spinners who turn the ball away from him.

Pakistan head coach Misbah-ul-Haq has already marked the leg-spinner as one of Pakistan's key weapons.

Josh Hazlewood v Babar Azam

Babar Azam led Pakistan's charge with the bat in the T20I series, scoring two fifties from three games. He then backed it up with an unbeaten 157 and 63 in two practice games in Perth. With that sort of form, he is expected to lead the way for the visitors. His returns in 2018, 616 runs from 14 innings at an average of 56, saw him rise to be Pakistan's top-ranked batsman in the Test batting rankings as well, but an average of 35.29 from 21 Tests won't be enough for a man of his class.

Babar has been troubled by right-arm seam bowlers in Test cricket; such bowlers have accounted for 19 of his 35 dismissals, with Josh Hazlewood leading the way with four dismissals from six innings – all of which came during Pakistan's tour in 2016-17. Babar registered three single-digit scores in as many Tests, two of which had come in the final Test in Sydney where he was trapped lbw by Hazlewood in both innings.

Hazlewood has troubled some top right-handers such as South Africa's Hashim Amla and England captain Joe Root (whom he's accounted for seven times each) with his consistent line and lengths in the past. With Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc operating from the other end, there's little breathing space for batsmen.

Pat Cummins v Azhar Ali

The new-ball contest will be between the top-ranked bowler and the Pakistan skipper. Cummins has been in outstanding form since the start of 2018, having taken 87 wickets from 16 matches. Red-ball cricket remains his strongest suit, and conditions will assist his type of bowling, especially at the Gabba, where he's taken 14 wickets at an astonishing average of 12.14. He's yet to play a Test against Pakistan, but his track-record in ODIs – 13 wickets from seven games – and his performance in the T20I series suggest he will be a threat to them.

Azhar Ali, Pakistan's new Test captain, had put on a show during the 2016-17 tour, aggregating 406 runs from six innings, including a masterful unbeaten double century in Melbourne.

Both Cummins and Azhar are known for showing great patience and perseverance in their respective disciplines. A batsman with solid defensive technique up against a tall fast bowler boasting some serious pace and skills make for a keen battle.

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