Australia may have retained the Ashes, but the drawn series in England left a less-than-uplifting taste that the home team hopes to rectify with strong wins against Pakistan starting at the Gabba on Thursday.
Australian coach Justin Langer this week challenged his batsmen to start the summer in a positive manner after last year taking until the sixth Test for a batsman to notch triple figures.
Joe Burns, who was left out of the Ashes series, returns to partner David Warner, with the latter under the spotlight as he attempts to recover from his disastrous tour of England.
With the exception of Matthew Wade, former skipper Steve Smith was the only Australian to make centuries in the Ashes Tests and Pakistan’s first job is to stop the world’s No.1 bastman.
Pakistan bowling great Wasim Akram said before the first Test that not getting sucked in by Smith’s quirky technique will be key to getting on top of him early.
The tourists on Wednesday confirmed they are set to name 16-year-old paceman Naseem Shah as one of their left-field weapons.
The right-armer was spotted at a Lahore cricket academy by a friend of captain Azhar Ali “two or three years ago” and, after just seven first-class games, will be unleashed at the Gabba.
“He was in normal shoes, not even spikes and then he bowled a couple of deliveries. He was rapid fire and he (my friend) said straight away this guy has potential,” Ali recalled.
“In two, three years he has covered that distance to Test cricket.
“Not many players can be at that standard so early, but there are exceptions and he is one of them.
“The good thing about him is he’s very fit. I’ve captained him in first-class matches … he has overs under his belt and I’m sure he can do that in Test matches as well.”
Veteran Akram will help guide Shah and says he thinks getting past Smith may be as simple as ignoring a batsmen he admits he has never seen the like of before.
“I played against the greats of the game … but Smithy’s very, very different,” Akram said.
“Sometimes he stands outside off stump, sometimes he stands middle, sometimes leg stump.
Concentrate on what you want. Don’t follow his stance, his movement and go for your plans, not his.’’
Australia has not lost at the Gabba since 1988, although Pakistan made 450 in the second innings on its last visit to lose by just 38 runs.
With that 2016 Test still in mind, Ali is happy to talk up his side’s chances.
“We go in here with a lot of confidence,” he said.
“We have the talent to do well here and we have done well in patches in previous series (in Australia).
“To do that (win), I think we have to keep believing and also play with no fear.”
The two-match series concludes with a day-night Test starting on November 29 in Adelaide.
AUSTRALIA v PAKISTAN – FIRST TEST KEY QUESTIONS
Can Australia establish a reliable top-six batting order?
No centuries in the first five Tests last season and a worrying reliance on Steve Smith during the Ashes retention leaves Australia’s batsmen with plenty to prove this summer.
Joe Burns’ recall and the return of Travis Head is Justin Langer’s response, the coach saying he’s “getting closer” to figuring out Australia’s best Test side.
Both need runs, though, David Warner’s dismal Ashes series leaves him vulnerable despite returning to a happy hunting ground, and Marnus Labuschagne has impressed despite not yet posting a Test century.
Will Australian crowds embrace David Warner?
Painted as the villain of the team’s ball-tampering scandal and a passenger during the Ashes campaign, Warner has some ground to make up in red-ball cricket this summer.
Langer said Warner’s previous body of work, particularly at home, meant he would always play at the Gabba.
Crowds have been kind since his return to Australian shores, but will that continue if Warner doesn’t fill his boots against Pakistan and New Zealand?
Will Tim Paine consolidate his hold on the captaincy?
Whether the wicketkeeper should relinquish the captaincy once Steve Smith’s leadership ban expires – or even remain in the side – has been a constant talking point ahead of the Test summer.
That’s despite the classy custodian’s sharp work behind the stumps and leadership accomplishments that include a brave drawn Test against Pakistan in the UAE and retaining the Ashes.
Paine is still well backed by those who count, but Langer will hope the Tasmanian can score valuable runs, take his catches and captain wisely to fend off the detractors.
Will we see the best of Mitchell Starc with the red and pink ball?
The left-armer, almost unplayable at his best, was a tourist for all but one Ashes Test as Langer opted for accuracy over explosiveness.
It’s a different story in Australian conditions and, with James Pattinson suspended from the first Test, Starc’s been given the green light to unleash at the Gabba.
He has taken 16 wickets in his past two Sheffield Shield games and has the platform to continue that for Australia with the red, and potentially, pink ball in Adelaide.
Will Pakistan’s fast bowlers have more bark than bite?
A possible debut for 16-year-old Naseem Shah has been the talking point leading up to the opening Test, potentially joining a pace attack that has posed problems in the past for Australia.
Mohammad Abbas averages less than 19 after 14 Tests and Imran Khan ripped through the Australia A batting last week in Perth.
A pink-ball Test in Adelaide will follow the Gabba clash and ensure plenty of nervous moments, but Australia is intent on batting this inexperienced bowling unit into the ground.