Ed Hawkins previews game one from Dubai on Sunday and says Australia face a horribly tough task
"On their last five tours to Asia (none of which they have won), 81 per cent of their wickets have fallen to spin"
Pakistan v Australia
Sunday October 7, 07.00
Shadab injury a blow
Pakistan have a formidable home record against teams from outside of Asia. It's 11 wins in the last 18 and only three defeats. They despatched Australia 2-0 in the last meeting on UAE soil.
Will they be as strong again? It never pays to wholly trust Pakistan. They come into this series with problems. Skip Sarfaraz Ahmed is exhausted and barely able to buy a run.
They have also lost to injury Shadab Khan, who was going to be a key second spinner to work alongside Yasir Shah. Bilal Asif is expected to make his debut instead.
Shadab was a fulcrum for Pakistan. He offers solid batting and Mickey Arthur, the coach, had long pencilled him and Yasir as destroyers-in-chief. Those plans are in disarray.
The recall of Mohammad Hafeez is good news. Pakistan require some experience in the middle order to give them balance when strokemakers Azhar Ali and Babar Azam are going at it. Asad Shafiq, durable and classy in the middle order, remains a punters' favourite.
Australia could give debuts to four players. Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne and Michael Neser are set to receive their Baggy Greens. If you're beginning to think Australia have the look of a second string, you'd be right.
The furore may have died down but Steve Smith and David Warner remain banned. Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood are injured. It means Australia could field an XI with limited experience. There are only 63 caps in Asia in this Aussie squad.
Much rests on Nathan Lyon, a wily spinner whose record in Asia recently makes him dangerous, and Mitchell Starc doing damage with the ball. With the bat, Shaun Marsh has a heavy burden on his shoulders as their best player of spin. Travis Head has runs behind him on an A tour to India.
Usman Khawaja, who struggles against turn, is expected to open with Finch. Tim Paine, the skipper, will bat at No 7 and Starc at 8. That is pretty high for Starc who wil be severely tested in spinning conditions.
Australia called their draw against Pakistan "perfect preparation". The scorecard suggests that is true as the Aussies were in control. But they didn't face a single ball of spin in a cunning ploy by the hosts to ensure they're undercooked. Left-arm Spinner Jon Holland did take five wickets for Australia, though, and he will be confident when working with Lyon.
Winner will bat first
Bat first and go big at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. The last four first-innings scores read: 482-579-378-403. In 11 Tests there is not a huge toss bias with five won by the side batting first and two stalemates. Still, winning the toss and batting first could well be game over for the Aussies. They will not fancy batting last on this.
Pakistan should dominate
Pakistan are [2.04], Australia [2.98] and the draw [5.6]. Pre-toss that looks to be terrific value about the hosts. Even if they get the chance to put pressure on Australia in the fourth innings, a cut to [1.65] territory would still be worth it.
As we said in our series preview, all the planets are coming into line for Pakistan. The trend for touring teams struggling in Tests, lack of preparation for Australia and hereditary woe against spin. The latter concerns us most - on their last five tours to Asia (none of which they have won), 81 per cent of their wickets have fallen to spin.
Over a two-Test series we would be amazed if Pakistan didn't triumph. The even money (available with Sportsbook) looks a good bet indeed.
Azhar and Shafig have good records
Azhar Ali looks a fair favourite to top score for Pakistan in the first-innings at 11/4 with Betfair Sportsbook. Over the last two years he has the most runs in Asia and the most at 'home' - 635 in the last five Tests. Next best is Shafiq with 381. That's a pretty sizeable disparity. Still, it could be argued that 6/1 Shafiq is hardly a risk. Babar Azam is 7/2 but his record is significantly inferior to Azhar and Shafiq.
Paine a decent price
Shaun Marsh and Tim Paine, statistically, are Australia's best players of spin. Usman Khawaja and Head are probably their worst. Shaun Marsh gets a 7/2 quote for top Aussie first-dig bat while Paine is 5/1.
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l