BRISBANE: Pace spearhead Mitchell Starc says Australia plan to inflict a psychological blow on vulnerable Pakistan in Thursday´s day-night first Test in Brisbane to set up their three-match series.
The left-armer said Australia, who lost Test series against Sri Lanka and South Africa recently, sense an opportunity to strike with Pakistan struggling for form away from home.
The visitors have never won in 11 series in Australia, dropping their last three series here 3-0 and losing their previous nine Tests Down Under since 1999.
Their recent form in New Zealand on the way to Brisbane does not engender confidence that things will be any different.
They were defeated there by hefty margins in both Tests, including an ignominious collapse of nine wickets in the final session of the second Test in Hamilton.
Starc is confident Steve Smith´s new-look team, who halted a run of five Test defeats in the third Test against South Africa last month, can press their home advantage at the Gabba where Australia have not lost in 27 Tests stretching back to 1988.
Pakistan have never won in four Brisbane Tests.
“They´ve struggled in New Zealand and probably struggle a little more away from home — they´re really comfortable in the UAE (where Pakistan play their home Tests),” Starc said.
“So it´s a good opportunity for us in this Test match to assert our dominance first up, make an impression in the first Test of the series, which goes a long way to working out the final result.”
There is added spice to the series with South African Mickey Arthur now in charge of Pakistan three years after he was sacked as Australia coach and replaced by Darren Lehmann.
Arthur, who still lives in Perth, faces the huge challenge of not only ending Pakistan´s drought in Australia but becoming the first team from the sub-continent to win a Test series here.
He has past form when it comes to plotting series upsets in Australia.
In 2008-09 he coached South Africa to a 2-1 victory — the first time any touring team had won a campaign in Australia since the mighty West Indies 16 years earlier.
“For these guys to come here and win would be amazing,” Arthur said.
“But we are under no illusions. Australia are a fantastic cricket team and, in these conditions, it´s going to be very tough for us.”
Pakistan´s big hopes rest with their pace attack led by Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir, who is back playing Test cricket after a five-year ban following a spot-fixing controversy in 2010.
“He´s got great skills, everyone in world cricket knows that,” Starc said of Amir.
“He bowls at good pace, swings the ball, he´s got a fast-arm action and knows his game really well for a young bowler.
“So he´s one of the guys they´re going to rely on to get that ball swinging around and trying to get wickets early and throughout an innings.”
Leg-spinner Yasir Shah, who has taken 116 wickets in 20 Tests, injured his back in a pre-Test warm-up game and faces a fitness Test.
The clash will be Australia´s third pink-ball Test, but the first under the Brisbane lights, having beaten New Zealand and South Africa in Adelaide. Pakistan downed the West Indies in their only day-night Test in Dubai in October.
Pakistan briefly held the top Test ranking this year but come into the match in fourth, while Australia are third behind top-ranked India.
Australia (squad) – David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (capt), Peter Handscomb, Nic Maddinson, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers.
Pakistan (squad) – Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Azhar Ali, Sami Aslam, Sharjeel Khan, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Rahat Ali, Sohail Khan, Imran Khan.
Umpires: Ian Gould (ENG) and Richard Illingworth (ENG)
Third umpire: Sundaram Ravi (IND)
Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (SRI)