Mohammad Yousuf, Pakistan's stand-in captain, has boldly predicted that his talented attack can bowl out Australia twice in a match ahead of their three-Test series opener in Melbourne which began early this morning. Yousuf's optimism might be justified considering paceman Mohammad Asif and leg-spinner Danish Kaneria starred in the recently-drawn three-Test series against the Black Caps in New Zealand.
The pair claimed 32 wickets between them to be first (19) and third (13) respectively in the series' wicket-takers list. With the likes of Umar Gul and Mohammad Aamer supporting Asif in the pace department, and Saeed Ajmal on call with his off-spin, Yousuf is confident of producing positive results against the Aussies too. "Yes, we have a very good bowling side, we can take 20 wickets in a Test," Yousuf said before Pakistan's training session at the MCG yesterday.
"We have to play good cricket for five days. This is not Twenty20 cricket, it is five-day cricket, at least 30 hours playing good cricket against any team." However, the Pakistan captain, who is leading the side while the selectors consider a permanent replacement for Younus Khan, knows his batsmen will also have to carry their weight. Yousuf scored 111 when he last played at the MCG and he hopes to at least match that effort this time around.
"I will try for the same performance. I will try ... I will try for 300," he quipped. Pakistan's selectors have yet to finalise the team who will tackle Australia today but if it were up to Yousuf, who confirmed Gul was fit to play after a knee scare, not much tinkering would occur. "So far I'm very happy with the team from the past three Test matches, we played good cricket [in New Zealand] and I am pleased with the way we played," he said.
The Australia captain, Ricky Ponting, has all but declared himself a certain starter. Ponting has been in a race against time to be fit for the series opener after taking a fearsome blow to his elbow courtesy of a Kemar Roach thunderbolt in the third Test against the West Indies at the WACA last week. However, the 35-year-old has undergone intense treatment since suffering the injury which forced him to retire hurt, and after a solid net session yesterday at the MCG, Ponting said he was very confident of taking on Pakistan.
"I went well actually, I went better than I did the day before," said Ponting. "I had a bit of pain in the nets but I was always going to bat two days leading in to the game just so I had a really good gauge on it and how I was going and I'm really confident that I can play the game. "Hughesy [Phil Hughes] will stay here until the game starts just to wait and see how I wake up in the morning but I'm pretty confident that I'll be OK."
Ponting conceded he would be surprised if Peter Siddle and Nathan Hauritz do not join him in the XI. Siddle bowled 10 overs in his return match from a hamstring injury for the Bushrangers during their four-wicket loss to NSW in the Ford Ranger Cup on Wednesday, and he is set to replace Clint McKay. Ponting said: "He [McKay] hasn't left the squad but Siddle has done everything that he needs to have done, playing the game the other day, backing up, and having his bowl this morning and getting through so I'd expect that he'll play."
Hauritz continues to battle a groin complaint but he also had a solid session in the nets yesterday and has a good chance of retaining his spot in the side. "With Nathan, he was a whole lot better at training and he feels a lot better within himself. He had a good solid bowl and had a lot more work on the ball than he did so that's a good sign." * With agencies Australia v Pakistan, 3.30am start, Showsports 2