Friday, December 25, 2009

Ricky Ponting wary of skilful and unpredictable Pakistan team on eve of Test series

THERE was one word Ricky Ponting used to sum up Pakistan: mystery.

It's not so much who the Australians will be up against in the first Test of the series, beginning at the MCG today, but what sort of cricket they will play.

Ponting rates Pakistan more highly than the West Indies, who the Australians have just beaten 2-0 in a three-Test series.

However, Pakistani batsmen have always been as dashing as they can be brittle in the attempt.

That was illustrated only a fortnight ago during Pakistan's third and final Test against New Zealand in Napier, when opening batsman Imran Farhat made a century, and the next five batsmen all made single figures, including three ducks.

"They're a more skilled group of players than the West Indies, there's no doubt about that," Ponting said. "We know with Pakistan that when they put their best foot forward they are a very, very good cricket team.

"They do have a lot of mystery about them. I think that's probably the word that sums them up the best.

"They are unpredictable. One day they can be brilliant, another day they can be pretty ordinary, so we've got to make sure they have more ordinary days than brilliant ones over the next few weeks."

Pakistan had mixed results on its recent tour of New Zealand, narrowly losing the first Test and winning the second before the third was washed out after being evenly poised.

Captain Mohammad Yousuf believes that because Pakistan has already been on the road for more than a month, and played a drawn lead-up match against Tasmania, his team should be better prepared than the West Indies when they arrived last month.

"So far I'm very happy with the team from the past three Test matches," Yousuf said.

"We played good cricket and I am pleased with the way we played.

"That tour will help us, the conditions are very similar."

That Pakistan is playing international cricket at all, let alone so competitively, is a matter for great celebration given the tumultuous state of the country and the fact that teams can no longer tour because of danger of terrorism.

Pakistan has recently added two exciting young players to their team, left-arm fast bowler Mohammad Aamer and batsman Umar Akmal, the younger brother of wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal, who scored a century on debut in New Zealand.

Yousuf will be the most highly-rated batsman in this series. He is five on the official International Cricket Council rankings.

He was No 1 two years ago before being banned for defecting to the rebel Indian Cricket League.

Australians will best remember him scoring a wonderful century at the MCG five years ago as Yousuf Youhana before his conversion to Islam.

That was against an attack which included Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne.

"That was a top bowling attack," Yousuf said. "McGrath and Shane Warne were the best bowlers in the world. Ever. They took 1400 wickets for Australia.

"I will try for the same performance. I will try for 300," he joked given that Warne and McGrath are no longer about.

It is no surprise then given the change in personnel that the Pakistanis fancy their chances more than when they were whitewashed 3-0 when last in Australia.

However, Yousuf admits his team will miss the flair and experience of former captain Younis Khan, who stepped down amid typical Pakistani mayhem.

Ponting agrees: "It's probably been a little bit unsettled over the past few months, with Younus being out of the side, and they've had different openers as well."

As far as batting is concerned, "even Yousuf's only been back playing Test cricket for six months (following an 18-month ICL ban). It's not a long time. They've probably been a bit unsettled but you can't question the quality or the calibre of some of their players.

"They're all very capable. You stack that up with the fast bowlers and the spinners . . . and all of a sudden it looks like a very formidable side."

The pace attack of Aamer, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul is complemented by world-class leg-spinner Danish Kaneria and unusual off-spinner Saeed Ajmal.

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