Australian cricketers take part in a practice session at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium on Monday. AFP
Star Australian batsman Steve Smith said Tuesday he was “feeling good” after recovering from concussion and hopes to replicate his big scoring from the Ashes during Australia’s tour of Pakistan, their first in 24 years. The 32-year-old fell heavily and banged his head attempting a boundary catch in the second Twenty20 against Sri Lanka in Sydney last month, ruling him out of the rest of that series.
Smith, who is expected to be a batting mainstay for the tourists in the three-match Test series starting in Rawalpindi on Friday, said he is looking forward to some big scores. “I’ve progressed really nicely,” Smith told a virtual press conference from the team’s hotel in Islamabad. “Now I am excited to be in Pakistan. I love getting on a roll and being able to play a lot of cricket, and just finding my groove.
The last away tour, I performed really well in the Ashes and hopefully I can replicate something similar in this series,” said Smith, who scored a whopping 774 in England in 2019, with three hundreds. Smith has a good record elsewhere in Asia, with 1,200 of his 7,784 runs plundered in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the UAE. Now he is looking forward to the challenge of playing in unfamiliar Pakistan conditions, where Australia haven’t toured since 1998 because of security issues.
“I love playing on different surfaces, and all the different challenges of playing on different surfaces around the world,” he said. “Hopefully I hit a lot of balls in the next few days and find a nice rhythm going into the first Test on Friday.” The Australian squad held their first practice session on Monday after completing a 24-hour Covid-19 isolation and providing negative tests.
The team are also being kept in a tight security bubble, travelling in armoured vehicles to and from the hotel and with more than 4,000 security personnel deployed specifically for the tour. Smith said he always longed to play in Pakistan. “It’s the first time a lot of us have been here. We’re really excited,” he added. “We know how passionate Pakistanis are about cricket.” The second Test is in Karachi (March 12-15) and the third in Lahore (March 21-25). The tourists will also play three one-day internationals and a single Twenty20 fixture.
Australia ‘incredibly safe’ in Pakistan despite Agar threat: Smith also said the players felt “incredibly safe” on their tour, despite spinner Ashton Agar receiving a death threat via social media just days before the start of the first test. Agar was warned against travelling to Pakistan, though the threat was dismissed following an investigation by the boards of Pakistan and Australia and government security agencies. Cricket Australia said extensive security plans were in place for such social media activity and that the threat was “not considered a risk”. Smith said the team trusted the security arrangements in place.
“We’re aware of social media and the unfortunate events that can occur on platforms,” he told reporters ahead of the first test, which starts on Friday in Rawalpindi. “We’ve got a lot of people working here with us, we trust our security and we’re feeling incredibly safe in Pakistan.”
Pakistan pacer Rauf tests positive for COVID-19, ruled out of first Test: Pakistan were hit with another blow Tuesday when fast bowler Haris Rauf tested positive for Covid, three days before the first Test against Australia in Rawalpindi. The 28-year-old was in line to make his Test debut, but is now certain to miss the match. “Rauf has tested positive and has been isolated in the hotel,” said a Pakistan cricket Board statement.
Pakistan have also lost pace bowler Hasan Ali and all-rounder Faheem Ashraf through injury. Haris has played eight one-day internationals and 34 Twenty20s since making his debut for the national team two years ago. He hails from Rawalpindi, and there was buzz around his Test debut after he made an impression with his pace in Australia’s Big Bash League. Haris tested positive for Covid three times ahead of Pakistan’s England tour in 2020.
Steven Smith and Usman Khawaja carried Australia to a watchful 84-2 in the last session on Day 3 for an overall lead of 300 after Pakistan collapsed to 271 all out at the stroke of tea and conceded a 216-run lead.
The 32-year-old drove pacer Hasan Ali to cover boundary to reach the milestone in the 151st innings of his 85th Test. He beat Sri Lankan great Kumar Sangakkara's record of doing it in his 152nd innings, achieved against India in Colombo 12 years ago.
Openers Imam-ul Haq and Abdullah Shafique were unbeaten on 42 and 27 respectively, leaving the home team needing another 278 runs in 90 overs, with all 10 wickets intact when play resumes on Friday.
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