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Rival captains expect another slow wicket in series decider

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (AP) – Pakistan captain Babar Azam predicts another slow wicket will test the patience and skills of batters when his side meets Australia in the decisive third and final test today.

Babar played one of the epic knocks in the fourth innings of a test match when his marathon 196 defied Australia for more than 10 hours and forced a draw at Karachi to keep the series locked at 0-0.

Australia spinners Nathan Lyon and debutant leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson bowled 108 of the 172 overs in the fourth innings at Karachi but Pakistan kept the visitors at bay by scoring 443-7 in more than five sessions, falling short by 63 runs of the mammoth 506-run target.

The docile and lifeless wicket in the tame drawn test at Rawalpindi saw Australia picking up just four out of the 14 wickets to fall and the pitch at the Pindi Cricket Stadium also received one demerit point after being rated at “below average” by the ICC.

After the criticism of the Rawalpindi wicket, the Pakistan Cricket Board flew in ICC Academy curator Toby Lumsden, who has assisted the local ground staff to prepare the Lahore test wicket.

“It’s not much different, looks like the same pitch but I feel it will definitely give turn,” Babar told reporters via videoconference yesterday. “It has small cracks from where spinners could get help, but you can’t tell 100 per cent because of hot conditions. Whatever it is, our spinners are ready for it and will fight.”

The Pakistani and Australian cricket teams practice at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan. PHOTOS: AP
Pakistani players and Australia’s cricket team attend a practice session
Australia’s Usman Khawaja bats during a practice session

Australia’s historic first tour of Pakistan since 1998 has an added significance going into the series decider. Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium will be hosting its first test in 13 years since a terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in 2009 that led to a lengthy absence of international cricket in the country.

None of the Pakistan players have played a test match at the Gaddafi Stadium where Babar made his ODI debut against Zimbabwe in 2015 when Pakistan started its campaign to win back the confidence of foreign teams and the resumption of international cricket.

Test cricket resumed in Pakistan in 2019 when Sri Lanka toured Pakistan while Bangladesh and South Africa also played test matches, but in Karachi and Rawalpindi, rather than Lahore.

While Pakistan is still contemplating which of its spinners to take into the match, Australia has named an unchanged side, which means Swepson will get another game to exhibit his legspin skills on a slow wicket with experienced off-spinner Lyon.

“Looks (wicket) quite similar,” Australia captain Pat Cummins said. “I can’t say been too much different (wicket) from the other ones, so we feel like we’ve got all bases covered, if needed for a reverse swing or spin later in the game.”

Australia had its chances to go 1-0 up in the series at Karachi, but dropped three crucial catches that eventually allowed Pakistan to force an epic draw.