Dubai: Australian captain Tim Paine hopes his team will move on from the ball-tampering row and start a new era when they face Pakistan in the first Test in Dubai on Sunday.
Australian cricket was rocked by the ball-tampering row in the Cape Town Test against South Africa in March this year, the fallout resulting in year-long bans for then captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner.
Opening batsman Cameron Bancroft, caught by television cameras using sandpaper to try and scuff up the ball, was suspended for nine months.
It also led to coach Darren Lehmann stepping down and being replaced by Justin Langer, with both the new coach and Paine promising to reshape the culture around the team.
“I think what happened was unfortunate but we have to move on. We are fortunate enough to be getting back together after what happened,” Paine said at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Saturday.
Wicket-keeper Paine assumed the captaincy midway through the scandal-hit Cape Town match, and took the first step to improve Australia’s public image in the next Test at Johannesburg by introducing a pre-match handshake with the South African players.
Both teams will also shake hands ahead of the Dubai Test, with Aaron Finch, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne all set to make their Test debuts for Australia.
“It’s a great opportunity for some new players, new coach, but still the Australian Test team hasn’t changed. It’s a little bit of a new era, but we are hopeful that the guys who were involved will be back in the next six or eight months,” said Paine of the banned trio.
Australia face a trial by spin as has so often been the case on their tours to Asia.
In the space of six years, they have lost 12 of their 15 Tests — recording only two wins with one draw — on tours of India (twice), Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates.
They lost 2-0 to Pakistan in the UAE in 2014, with Yasir Shah taking 12 wickets and left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar, who is no longer in the international set-up, claiming 14.
“Yasir is clearly a world-class bowler who’s got a phenomenal record at this ground in Dubai. We’re going to have to take everything we’ve been working on,” said Paine. “We’ve faced a hell of a lot of spin, there’s no doubt about that and Australian touring sides always do.”
Former Indian cricketer Sridharan Sriram, serving as a consultant with Australia, brought two Indian wrist-spinners, Pardeep Sahu and the left-arm KK Jiyas, to the UAE for net practice ahead of the Tests.
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed made clear he will attack Australia through Yasir.
“When we played Australia in 2014 we played some attacking cricket,” said Sarfraz. “Yasir is our main bowler so we will want him to attack and get us wickets to win the series.
“But similarly we will not put extra pressure on him and will not want him to go in a defensive mode so other bowlers will have to support him.”
Pakistan will also have 33-year-old off-spinner Bilal Asif, who played three One-day Internationals in 2015 but has yet to play a Test.
Recalled all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez could too prove dangerous for Australian left-handers.
Australia enjoyed a positive warm-up, with opener Aaron Finch, middle order batsman Travis Head and the Marsh brothers all getting runs in the tour match against Pakistan ‘A.
That was enough for Langer to confirm one-day specialist Finch and South Australia skipper Head would play their first Tests, while South Africa-born batsman Marnus Labuschagne was confirmed as the third debutant on Saturday, with Matt Renshaw overlooked due to match fitness concerns rather than concussion fears.
Pace workhorse Peter Siddle will support spearhead Mitchell Starc rather than the uncapped Michael Neser.
Usman Khawaja will open with Finch, with Mitch Marsh promoted to fourth in the batting order behind his brother Shaun. Head will bat at five ahead of Labuschagne.
Pakistan are in the midst of their own rebuild in the wake of retirements to former skipper Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, but having trounced a stronger Australia 2-0 in the last UAE series in 2014, they will fancy themselves to win this one.
Little may be expected of Paine’s Australia in a series that will play out when home fans are sleeping, but the 33-year-old skipper is mindful that results, as well as culture, are key to restoring good will.
“We are certainly making some changes and it’s something we are really serious about but we are also aware that we need to be playing a high level of cricket and winning games,” he said.
PAKISTAN (from): Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Azhar Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan, Bilal Asif, Mohammad Abbas, Wahab Riaz, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Hafeez.
AUSTRALIA: Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Tim Paine (captain), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle, Jon Holland.
Umpires: Richard Illingworth (England) and Richard Kettleborough (England).
TV umpire: Sundaram Ravi (India).
Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).