November 18, 2019 / 8:04 AM / 18 days ago

PREVIEW-Cricket-Smith, Warner to test young Pakistan quicks

MELBOURNE, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Australia’s Steve Smith and David Warner will look to give Pakistan’s raw attack a baptism of fire in a two-match series starting Thursday as the batsmen play their first tests on home soil since serving bans for ball-tampering.

Former captain Smith and Warner have not been seen in test whites at home since January 2018 when both scored half-centuries at the Sydney Cricket Ground at the end of a triumphant Ashes series.

Much water has since passed under that bridge, with the pair sidelined for 12 months for their roles in the Newlands scandal and a much-reduced Australia condemned to struggle in their absence.

They have since made successful returns to the international arena on foreign shores.

Warner plundered 647 runs as Australia reached the one-day World Cup semi-finals in England, while Smith amassed 774 runs in a magical Ashes series that saw Tim Paine’s team retain the urn in September.

But both batsmen will be eager to make their mark in front of home fans at the Gabba on Thursday, and in the day-night test in Adelaide from Nov. 29.

Lefthander Warner will be particularly keen to fire after a poor Ashes series boasting a solitary half-century.

That could spell trouble for a rebuilding Pakistan squad that have a pace unit featuring three teenagers as well as Mohammad Abbas and Imran Khan.

While Abbas and Imran both have experience bowling against Australia, much faith has been placed in 19-year-old left-armer Shaheen Afridi and the uncapped duo of Muhammad Musa and Naseem Shah.

Though highly rated, the tall Shaheen has only three tests to his name and is on the comeback trail after suffering a bout of dengue fever.

Throwing the untested Musa, another 19-year-old beanpole, into the Gabba fortress, let alone the 16-year-old Naseem, would seem an even bigger gamble.

“It looks like (Naseem) Shah bowls with some good pace,” Smith told reporters in Brisbane.

“Being as young as he is, he probably hasn’t bowled lots of overs consistently, so it’ll be about making him come back and bowl as many spells as he can and see if he can maintain it.”

Australia have never lost a test series to Pakistan on home soil but surrendered their first to an Asian side over the 2018/19 home summer when beaten by Virat Kohli’s India.

Australia are a lot stronger with Smith and Warner in the side, however, even if question marks hang over some of their batting team mates.

The recalled Joe Burns will again try to lock down a long-term gig as Warner’s opening partner, while middle order batsman Travis Head is under scrutiny after being retained in the wake of his lean Ashes series.

Pakistan coach Misbah-ul-Haq, who captained them to a 3-0 whitewash defeat in their last trip to Australia in 2016/17, will have faith that skipper Azhar Ali and the top six batsmen can produce competitive totals against Australia.

Getting 20 wickets in both tests will be another matter, though, on taxing pitches that demand pace and patience.

“It’s hard work on these big fields, hard pitches,” said Pakistan bowling coach Waqar Younis.

“It takes a lot out of you as a teenager and we have to keep our fingers crossed that they stay fit and can challenge the Australians.”

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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