Yasir Shah and Nathon Lyon likely to be key protagonists in dry conditions
Normally when Pakistan plays hosts to teams in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), there is a sense of predictability about how things are going to pan out over the course of the series and it is no different this time around; with spin likely to play a crucial role in the outcome of the match.
Pakistan may not have the backing of an impassioned crowd but their superlative performances in these conditions, a sudden puff of dust from the dry pitches and the art of reverse swing is enough to help them form their own version of a frenzied cauldron.
In such a situation, resistance can vanish like ice before heat but this is precisely the situation when character and determination steps in and Australia will need that in abundance if they are to add a veneer of competitiveness to the series.
In their last five tours to the subcontinent, Australia have managed to win only two Tests out of 15 while they have lost 12 of those matches. Consequently they have lost four of those series and have only succeeded in drawing the series once.
Without the services of two of their most prolific players from the past couple of years, David Warner and Steve Smith, Australia will be under the quash due to the challenging conditions, once again but having said that, the likes of Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh will have to do the bulk of scoring and carry the team forward.
Trial by spin has left visiting sides beseeching for mercy in the past but in 2017 Pakistan were handed a damning indictment when they suffered a whitewash at the hands of Sri Lanka.
Pakistan may not be there for the taking but they are vulnerable in certain areas, which the Aussies can exploit. Their top order is susceptible against the new ball while the middle order lacks experience and runs under their belt.
Babar Azam has been far from consistent in the game’s longest version — with an average of just 28 in 13 matches — and would be looking to prove a point in the upcoming series.
Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq will be Pakistan’s best bets with the bat heading into the series and Pakistan would be hoping that their batting efforts revolve around the duo in order to put up competitive totals on the board.
Mohammad Hafeez — who is likely to make a comeback into the side after a gap of more than two years — will be looking to bring his experience into play and make the most of this opportunity after a late inclusion in the squad. Hafeez could also prove troublesome for the Aussie batting lineup — with a fair share of left-handed batsmen in the side.
In order to keep the Pakistan batsmen under check, Australia will look towards fast-bowler Mitchell Starc and off-spinner Nathon Lyon to keep them in the ascendency.
Starc is more than capable of inflicting damage with the new cherry in his hand while he can also effectively utilise reverse swing with the old ball aided by his pace, whereas Lyon, with his ever improving spin bowling credentials can exploit the conditions to his advantage.
The off-spinner was also impressive in the tour game ahead of the series — where he picked up eight wickets.
In Australia’s last trip to India and Bangladesh, Lyon claimed 41 wickets in six matches at an average of 19.39; a stat which highlights the improvement he has brought about in his game.
Pakistan on the other hand would be banking on leg-spinner Yasir Shah to be the vital cog in their wheel.
Shah’s nonchalant demonstration of sharp leg-spin bowling is probably going to be Australia's biggest worry heading into the series but they must not fall into the trap of playing with an angst-ridden approach as it is only going to make matters worse for them.
In the pace department, Mohammad Abbas will be on the mark with his immaculate line and length but it remains to be seen whether Pakistan partner him with the experienced yet inconsistent Wahab Riaz or trust a debutant in the shape of Mir Hamza — with the latter arriving in UAE with hugely impressive first-class figures.
In his first series as Test skipper, wicketkeeper-batsman Tim Paine will have to be proactive with his captaincy in the field while also staying consistent with the bat lower down the order.
On the flipside, his counterpart Sarfraz Ahmed will be looking to bounce back with a dominating show against Australia after being under-fire for the team’s dismal performance in the recently concluded Asia Cup.