Australia will field arguably their weakest Test line-up of the past 25 years against Pakistan in October, missing four of their six world-class players.
Already greatly weakened by the one-year bans handed to their two best batsmen, Steve Smith and David Warner, Australia have now lost gun quicks Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, leaving them in an awfully vulnerable state.
Australia at full strength are only a middling Test team and now they’ve been left with only two world-class Test cricketers in left arm quick Mitchell Starc and off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
The remainder of their team to play the two Tests in Pakistan will be made up of rookies and a handful of veterans like 35-year-old Shaun Marsh, 31-year-old Usman Khawaja and 33-year-old Tim Paine. That trio will be handed huge responsibility in this series, but there is reason to doubt their ability to carry that load.
Marsh, at 35 years old, has a fantastic Test record in Sri Lanka but was an abject failure in his most recent series in Asia, averaging 19 across four Tests in India last year. The left-hander laboured badly against India’s tweakers and was again troubled by spin in Australia’s most recent Test series against South Africa, with Keshav Maharaj dismissing him three times.
Khawaja, meanwhile, has a famously awful Test record away from home, averaging just 25 from his 15 Tests outside Australia, and his returns are even worse in Asia where he’s averaged just 14 from five Tests. Then there’s Paine, who has not played a first-class match in Asia since eight years ago when he played the third and fourth Tests of his career in India.
Judging from Australia’s last Test tour against Pakistan four years ago, this veteran trio will be buffeted by spin across the upcoming two Tests. Back then, the Aussies were riding high after a 5-0 Ashes win and a 2-1 series win over a star-studded Proteas team in South Africa.
This time they’ll limp into the series missing four star players and fresh off the most tumultuous period in the modern era of Australian cricket.
Australia will also have a batting line-up which pales in comparison to the one which was humiliated by Pakistan in 2014. On that disastrous tour, which saw Australia handed consecutive Test hammerings, Australia had not just Smith and Warner, but also the masterful play of spinner Michael Clarke and consistent veteran Chris Rogers.
Yet still they fell in a heap against Pakistan’s spinners, with leggie Yasir Shah and left arm finger spinner Zulfiqar Babar combining to take 26 wickets at 22. This October, the pitches are expected to be similarly dry and spin-friendly and Pakistan will surely play two spinners against an Australian side renowned for its frailty against slow bowling.
While Australia competed well in India last year, their batting relied enormously on the genius of Smith, who put together one of the great series by a visiting batsman in India, amassing 499 runs at 71, including three tons.
Warner, meanwhile, was Australia’s best batsman on the last tour against Pakistan, averaging 60. It is very hard to see how Australia can put up even reasonable totals against Pakistan’s spinners without that duo.
Particularly when none of their three most experienced members of the top seven in Marsh, Khawaja and Paine have any recent successes against spin.
On the bowling front, Australia will greatly miss Cummins, who was outstanding in his Tests in Asia last year. The 25-year-old showed a very rare ability to wring life out of slow Asian pitches and was easily Australia’s best quick across the back-to-back series in India and Bangladesh.
With Hazlewood also ruled out of the Pakistan series through injury, Australia have no attractive pace option to pair with Starc. The likes of Jackson Bird and Chadd Sayers would seem likely to be innocuous on such lifeless pitches, while alternatives such as Jyhe Richardson and Chris Tremain would be making their Test debuts.
Australia’s chances of taking 20 wickets per Test will rest on the backs of Lyon and Starc, both of whom have had several moments of success in Asian conditions. With the bat, however, Australia have not one player who I can be confident will prosper in this series.
Australia will field a Test line-up which will be as weak as any I’ve seen in the past 25 years.