It’s no surprise that Australia seems to be very taken by Naseem Shah. A local journalist even brought up his own 16-year-old son as a contrast to just why so enamored they are by the teenage Pakistani prodigy’s imminent Test debut at the Gabba on Thursday (November 21). Only 15 Australian men, after all, have played Test cricket before they turned 20 over the 152 years they’ve been playing the sport.
That’s what makes Pakistan an exciting team always though, this sense of unpredictability and capriciousness, which at times can come across as a suspension of disbelief. On most days, they say, it’s rather difficult to know what to expect from a Pakistani cricket team. But this is a Pakistani outfit which perhaps doesn’t quite know what to expect from themselves, which again could make them both vulnerable or dangerous, depending on how they rock up for the gig over the next five days.
Throwing a completely unknown kid, who in most other countries would still only be paddling with a float on in a cricketing sense, is only the coating on top of what is a Pakistan team in an experimental stage. They have a new captain, a new coach who is also chief selector, a new wicket-keeper and a slew of new faces probably even relatively new to those back home. They haven’t won a Test in Australia for 25 years and they have never won a Test series here. But still, if there’s one team you never rule out till you actually see them ruling themselves out in the middle, it’s Pakistan. And there’ll be hope about them creating history till the time there actually is no hope.
Azhar Ali and his side could potentially take some inspiration from India having ended the subcontinental hoodoo Down Under. But that was against an Australian team who’d been forced into an experimental phase, and much like Pakistan here had an overwhelming sense of “newness” to them. With Steve Smith and David Warner has returned since, it’s a more settled Australian team of course, but also one that has a more predictable tinge to it – even if the paint hasn’t dried yet on the middle-order either side of Smith.
With the Ashes urn now safely in their custody, Tim Paine & Co. will now set their eyes on regaining their hold over the citadel they’d surrendered to the Indians last year. It’ll also be Australia’s chance to welcome back their two refreshed superstars, Smith and Warner, in whites though with numbers on their backs. And it’s this clash of the unknowns against the well-knowns that promises to add a lot of intrigue to the opening game of a largely tepid home summer in Australia. That is till Pakistan doesn’t live up to that intrigue if they don’t.