SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Steve Smith’s sole aim will be to keep Australia in the winning habit when they take on a Pakistan side contemplating the imminent departure of their most successful captain in the dead rubber Sydney test this week.
With a first test series win of the season already in the bag after the dramatic victory in the Boxing Day test in Melbourne, Australia have continued the reconstruction of their team ahead of February’s four-test tour of India.
The recall of Steve O’Keefe for a twin-spin attack and inclusion of debutant batting all-rounder Hilton Cartwright gives Australia the look of a team getting an early start on preparations for a tour of the sub-continent.
Captain Smith, however, is well aware that little more than a month ago Australian cricket was in crisis after the home series loss to South Africa and his sights are firmly on victory and securing a 3-0 triumph over Pakistan.
“The selectors probably have an eye on India and the guys that are a possibility to be there,” Smith told reporters on Monday.
“(But) you can’t think too far ahead. The conditions are completely different, it’s a different kind of spin that you get out here compared to India.
“We’re just focused on this test match at the moment, hopefully we can have a clean sweep.”
Misbah-ul-Haq was so upset by the nature of the innings and 18-run defeat in Melbourne – a loss that ended his hopes of leading Pakistan to a first ever tour triumph in Australia – that he considered retiring from tests immediately.
The 42-year-old, who been considering hanging up his bat for more than a year and has scored only 20 runs in four innings in the series, ultimately decided to lead his country into the match but the end cannot be far away.
“You have to fight as a sportsman and that’s important for me also,” he told reporters yesterday.
“Everyone, from the support staff to the players are up for that, so I’m also up. I need to play at my best.”
Pakistan will also be looking for better from another veteran batsman in Younus Khan to bolster a line-up that has shown a worrying fragility in their last few test matches.
As in Melbourne, the weather will be a factor with rain forecast at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) for all five days from today.
Head groundsman Tom Parker has promised a bit of traditional SCG turn, which is good news for O’Keefe and off-spinner Nathan Lyon but might also provide fitting conditions for Pakistan leg-spinner Yasir Shah to show the full range of his powers.