BRISBANE: Pakistan will take a huge gamble in the first Test against Australia in Brisbane on Thursday by giving 16-year-old speed sensation Nasim Shah his international debut.

Many a more-experienced fast bowler has wilted on Australia’s hard tracks but Pakistan skipper Azhar Ali on Wednesday backed the teenager, who has only seven first-class matches under his belt, to deal with the situation.

“He’s bowling really well,” Azhar told a media conference here at the Gabba. “While we’ll announce the playing XI tomorrow [Thursday] but he’s definitely going to be part of it.

“Not many players can reach that standard so early but there are exceptions and he’s one of them. We are all looking forward to him having a very successful career.

“When I saw him first, I was so surprised at the control he had and the pace he had and, on top of it all, the temperament and the composure when he bowls is so exciting to see.”

Nasim, who will become the youngest player to make his test debut in Australia, is certain to face the best batsman in the world in Steve Smith over the course of the match but Azhar said he would feel no need to protect the youngster.

“The good thing about Nasim is he’s very fit,” he added. “I’ve captained him in first-class matches [during the ongoing domestic season] so he has overs in his belt. I have no doubt in his fitness or his bowling.”

Azhar said Nasim had been a ‘bit shy’ when he came into the Pakistan squad but had started to open up a bit, even if he had already endured a torrid start to his career as an international cricketer when his mother died while he was in Australia.

“He lost his mother last week and that was very tough for him but he bowled the next day [which] was a very hard thing to see,” he said.

Ian Craig holds the record as the youngest Test debutant in Australia after taking the field at the Melbourne Cricket Ground as a 17-year-old against South Africa in 1953.

Pakistan great Wasim Akram, meanwhile, said if someone was good enough, then age did not come into it.

“I think it’s a blessing in disguise because when you’re 16-17, you don’t even know what the word pressure means,” Wasim told Fox Sports Australia. “You just want to go out and play. When I was 17, I didn’t know what pressure meant, I was loving it. I think the same goes for Nasim. When he becomes a star he’ll know what pressure means. At this age he’ll just be raring to go.”

Pakistan also have two 19-year-old fast bowlers in Mohammad Musa Khan and Shaheen Afridi and Azhar said they were taking a fearless attitude into the two-match series in Australia.

“We have the talent to potentially do well here,” he said. “We come with fresh faces and a new look to the Test team and we are very confident that if we execute our skills, we have the potential to beat Australia. To do that we have to just keep believing and play with no fear. “

Australia captain Tim Paine said Australia had been preparing to face Nasim at the Gabba.

“Certainly at Test level it’s a bit unusual but by the looks of him he looks a really exciting talent,” Paine told reporters in Brisbane on Wednesday. “We’ve prepared for all of Pakistan bowlers. That’s the thing with Pakistan, they have a lot of different options, a lot of skill and by the looks of it a fair bit of pace.

“So we’ve made sure we’ve looked at as much footage as possible of their pace attack, and their batters.

“What we don’t want is to go out there be surprised by something we see, whether that’s their spinner, their quicks or their batsmen. So we’ve done our research.”

Pakistan will be hoping to make quick inroads into the Australian top order, but face huge hurdles in knocking over David Warner and Smith.

Smith carried his side in the recent Ashes series against England and Paine said he wanted to see the rest of the batsmen offer him more support against Pakistan.

“Probably during the Ashes we relied too heavily on Steve, so the rest of top seven are really keen to score a lot of runs,” he said. “Traditionally we love batting in Australia, we have had some real success on this ground, it’s a great ground to bat on if you can get in and spend a lot of time out there.”

Joe Burns, who scored a century in his last Test against Sri Lanka in February, is expected to open with Warner. Smith or Marnus Labuschagne will bat at number three, followed by Travis Head, Matthew Wade and Paine.

Coach Justin Langer echoed Paine’s call for more consistency from Australia’s batting line-up.

“We’re number five in the world in Test cricket at the moment, and there’s reasons for that,” Langer said. “One of them is that we don’t score 300-plus in the first innings enough. Our batters are very aware of that.

“We’re not going to shy away from that. It’s no secret. We know we’ve got to keep improving and I’m confident we will.”

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2019