SHARJAH // The last time Pakistan played on these shores, in January and February this year, Saeed Ajmal was the headline act with an amazing haul of 24 wickets in the three Test matches against England and 10 more in the four one-day internationals that followed.
The off-spinner will again be in the spotlight when Pakistan take on Australia in a three-match ODI series, starting tomorrow at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
Ajmal, the leading wicket-taker in international cricket this year, with his mesmerising variations of flight and speed and the doosras and teesras, could hold the key to the fate of the series, alongside his fellow spinners Abdur Rehman and Shahid Afridi, according to Michael Clarke.
"I think their greatest strength is definitely going to be their spin bowling," said the Australia captain. "They got some really good spinners in conditions where scoring against spin bowling is going to be quite tough.
"So we will have to work really hard, but in saying that I think our preparations as a batting group has been really good facing spin. We spent some time in Darwin working on playing spin bowling.
"To have success in these next three one-dayers, I think it is going to come down to whoever bowls spin the best and whoever plays spin the best will win the series.
"I think all matches are going to be quite tight. But you have to play your best cricket consistently to have success in this series, there's no doubt about that."
Mohammed Hafeez, the Pakistan vice-captain, is also handy with his off-breaks, but he is confident Ajmal, Afridi and Rehman will do the job and he will not be required.
"Ajmal is one of the best in the world," Hafeez said. "Wherever he plays, he gives his best and then Afridi is there as well. So we have got good spinners for the conditions and hopefully this time again, they will do the job required of them."
Australia also have a few spinners in their ranks. There is left-arm orthodox Xavier Doherty; David Hussey and Glenn Maxwell can bowl off-breaks, while Steven Smith can provide leg-spinning options. Clarke himself boasts a five-wicket haul in ODIs and has taken 55 wickets with his left-arm spinners in 50-over cricket.
Pace bowling, however, remains Australia's best weapon. Doherty, Maxwell, Hussey and Clarke all bowled in Australia's 66-run over Afghanistan on Saturday, but the spinners managed only one wicket in 16.5 overs between them. The pacemen - James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson - shared nine wickets. "The way our spinners bowl is going to be crucial to us having success," Clarke said. "It doesn't mean they will take all the wickets as we saw against Afghanistan.
"For a long time, the Australian fast bowlers have had success all around the world and I see this series being no different. But I do believe our spinners are going to play a huge part in us taking 10 wickets in every game. We'll have to use the whole attack wisely to have success in these conditions."
Both teams will also need to plan wisely for the heat and humidity. The ODIs will be starting at 6pm and the following three Twenty20 Internationals at 8pm, but, as the Afghanistan match showed, the heat can be unbearable even late in the night.
The Australians, though, were not very concerned about the heat, but were looking to bounce back from their 4-0 defeat to England in July.
"These conditions are very oppressive, but the guys are in pretty good shape," said Michael Hussey, who smashed a 37-ball 49 against Afghanistan. "We're very determined.
"The guys have got a real sting in the tail after losing in England and we want to put in a very good performance. I don't think we'll be letting the heat be an excuse for any poor performance."
There is a similar determination in the Pakistan camp. They have not beaten Australia in a ODI series since 2002 and have lost their last two 50-over series.
"The opposition are licking their wounds a little bit from recent performances," said Dav Whatmore, the Pakistan coach. "They've had some injuries [their regular vice-captain Shane Watson] and they've had a retirement [Brett Lee].
"They've had results not go their way, and we're hoping to keep that going."
Listen to more of Mike Hussey's views on the UAE tour and his place in the Australia side on our audio player below:
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE