Pakistan, Australia eye series win as Test cricket returns to Lahore after 13 years

Published March 21, 2022
A view of the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore. — Picture courtesy: PCB/Twitter
A view of the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore. — Picture courtesy: PCB/Twitter

LAHORE: When Pakistan captain Babar Azam and his Australian counterpart Pat Cummins walk towards the Gaddafi Stadium centre for the toss of the three-match series decider on Monday, it will mark the first time in 13 years that the venue will be hosting a Test.

The last Test played here in 2009 was called off on the morning of the third day of Pakistan’s second Test against Sri Lanka after gunmen opened fire on the visiting team at the iconic Liberty Chowk, a stone’s throw from the prestigious venue.

The attack saw Pakistan’s exile from the sport as a host country with the national side playing its ‘home’ games in the United Arab Emirates.

None of Pakistan’s players in their current squad have played a Test match in Lahore, but for Babar, who only just started playing youth cricket back then, it will be a special moment, as he not only plays but also leads Pakistan in a Test in the city where he was born and grew up.

”It’s a different feeling to play in front of a home crowd, at my home ground. I can’t explain this feeling,” Babar, who made his Test debut in 2016, told reporters in an online press conference on Sunday.

The Pakistan skipper, however, didn’t seem like losing his element on what, undeniably, will be a momentous occasion. He wanted to make it more memorable by ensuring his team wins the match to take the series 1-0 after an unexciting draw in Rawalpindi and a thrilling one in Karachi.

“The main aim is the same; to win,” said the 27-year-old, whose 603-minute 196-run knock helped Pakistan save the Karachi Test to keep the series alive.

The playing surfaces in Rawalpindi and Karachi have been subjected to criticism for their lack of support to the bowlers with neither team managing to take 20 wickets.

The Lahore pitch — of which the preparation has been overseen by former International Cricket Council academy curator Toby Lumsden — is expected to assist batters as well, but Babar believed spinners will be able to extract turn from it and that a result will be a possibility unlike the first two Tests.

“Though the pitch looks the same, I saw some little cracks which might open up from the third day and help the spinners to take advantage,” said the right-handed batter.

“I see a result here and if we win against a major team, it will mean a lot and will be a proud moment for us.”

Babar said he will have one final look at the pitch before the match to decide Pakistan’s final eleven. His Australian counterpart Cummins, on the other hand, will go with the same group that played in Karachi, expecting the pitch to behave in a similar way.

“It seems hard, but I don’t see it being too much different from the other ones [Rawalpindi and Karachi],” said the pacer.

“We feel like we have our bases covered if needed, whether it is reverse swing or spin later in the game.

“There are no injury worries, everyone is freshened up, so we are confident in the eleven.”

Australia could well have gone on to win the Karachi Test after giving Pakistan a mammoth 506 runs to win in the fourth innings had they held on to the chances their bowler’s created.

Abdullah Shafique, who went on to combine for more than 200 runs with Babar, was dropped while he was at 20 in the fourth day while Babar was dropped twice on the last day. Later, Usman Khawaja spilled Pakistan wicket-keeper/batter Mohammad Rizwan just before he reached his century.

With batters expected to dominate in the Lahore Test as well, Cummins said good fielding will pay dividends for both sides.

“Wickets are at a premium in this series so you cannot afford to drop too many chances,” he said. “So that is going to be the challenge this week.”

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2022

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