RAWLAPINDI: Pakistan’s first home Test series against Australia begins after 24 years at Rawalpindi Stadium here on Friday (today). During their month long tour, Australia will play three Tests, as many one-day internationals and a lone T20I.The two sides have kept a close eye on the Rawalpindi pitch which has a tradition of being a sporting one, the last Test played at the venue was Pakistan’s 95-run triumph against South Africa almost a year ago.Since the return of Test cricket in Pakistan in December 2019, this will be the fourth Test at the venue. The 2020 Pakistan-Sri Lanka match ended in a draw.It is perhaps just as significant that Australia have not played Tests overseas since mid-2019, due to the impact of Covid. Since then, Australia have had 14 Tests at home while Pakistan have only played five at home and 12 away. Pakistan have won seven of their last eight Tests including two at home against South Africa early last year. Both sides have spent Tuesday and Wednesday preparing for the Test at the venue in three-hour long, training, fielding and nets session of great intensity and quality.Both sides are full of world-class players and proven Test performers that have made their names across formats around the world.The pitch was under covers on Thursday with rain preventing both sides from training but they got a good look at it on Wednesday and it appeared flat and excellent for batting. The cooler weather in Rawalpindi also means the surface is unlikely to break up. In the last three Tests played here since 2019, the fast bowlers have been very successful. The forecast is good for the opening day but rain could be a factor later in the game.Pakistan Test regulars – fast bowler Hasan Ali and all-rounder Faheem Ashraf – were ruled out due to injuries they picked up during last week’s Pakistan Super League (PSL) with fast-bowler Naseem Shah and all-rounder Iftikhar Ahmed coming into the side. A lot has changed both on and off the cricket field since Australia last visited Pakistan in 1998.Some players who are expected to feature in the eagerly-awaited series were not even born then, like Pakistan’s pace spearheads Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah, opening batsman Abdullah Shafique and Australian all-rounder Cameron Green.Pakistan’s present captain Babar Azam, regarded as one of the finest batsmen in the game today, fast bowler Hasan Ali and all-rounder Faheem Ashraf were toddlers and senior batsmen Azhar Ali and FawadAlam were still in school.Similarly, none of the Australian players had made their mark at first class level in 1998.Cricket had only two formats, Tests and ODIs. It now has a third format, the rapid-fire T20 cricket which is getting popular with each day and threatening the other two formats.A generation has not seen Australia playing in Pakistan but cricket fans now hope they keep coming and nothing comes in their way to stop them from touring Pakistan. Australia have not won an away Test series since their tour of New Zealand in 2016, but have an experienced line-up capable of adapting to conditions. Opener David Warner and the prolific Steve Smith have scored 15,368 runs between them in 173 Tests, more than the Pakistan top seven batsmen’s combined 13,120. They also have the top-ranked Test batsman MarnusLabuschagne plus the in-form duo of Pakistan-born Usman Khawaja and Travis Head, who both plundered two centuries in the Ashes. They also have a world-class pace attack with skipper Pat Cummins alongside left-armer Mitchell Starc and the fit-again Josh Hazlewood. They are complemented by Australia’s greatest off-spinner Nathan Lyon, who passed 400 Test wickets in the Ashes and has taken 95 of those in Asia. In three Tests played in Rawalpindi since Pakistan were allowed to host matches again in 2019, 10 years on from the fatal terror attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore, fast bowlers have snapped up 52 wickets with spinners only bagging 21. “We’ve got a fair idea what we want to do, but just don’t want to make the call too early without fully knowing what the wicket is,” Cummins said during a virtual media conference on Thursday. “I don’t think it’ll be a super quick wicket, probably two spinners or three quicks.”Cummins, who led Australia to a 4-0 win in the home Ashes series against England, didn’t reveal whether leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson will make his debut or will partner Ashton Agar if Australia opts to go with two spinners. “I’d probably prefer to keep it quiet,” he said. “I think that they’re both great options. Swepy, you know, leg spinner, it’s just a real luxury to have. He’s been bowling fantastically. He’s ready to go. Ashton Agar has been fantastic whenever he’s played for Australia.”Cummins didn’t think that Pakistan will be weakened by the injuries to Hasan Ali and Faheem Ashraf. Spinners Nauman Ali and Sajid Khan have come in to replace leg-spinner Yasir Shah and fast bowler Mohammad Abbas, who both starred in Pakistan’s 1-0 win over Australia in the United Arab Emirates in 2018. “I think the one thing with the Pakistan team is that they have some young guys who come and shine straight away so it’s a new challenge,” said Cummins. Pakistan captain Babar had a nightmare period in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) when he led Karachi Kings to just one win in 10 league games to finish last in the six-team Twenty20 competition.But Babar believes Pakistan will carry the momentum of its last Test series in Bangladesh which Pakistan won 2-0 with Test specialists FawadAlam and Azhar Ali along with spinners Nauman Ali and Sajid Khan having good preparations in the training camp at Karachi. “As a captain, I am confident that I will have the best playing XI to give a tough fight to Australia in this historic home series. Unfortunately, it rained today, but we will see the wicket before finalising the final squad,” Babar said on Thursday.He said it was a setback to missHasan Ali and Faheem Ashraf and it had affected the team’s preparations.”Faheem Ashraf has contributed with the bat and ball while Hasan Ali has been performing for us consistently in test matches,” Babar said. “But we do have batters like Azhar Ali, FawadAlamand Mohammad Rizwan, and I am quite confident that against the best side in the world we will do well.”Both the cricket boards have agreed to name the trophy the Benaud-Qadir Trophy, after two legendary leg-spinners Richie Benaud of Australia and Pakistan’s Abdul Qadir.The second Test is in Karachi beginning on March 12 and the and third in Lahore from March 21. Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan, Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, FawadAlam, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Wasim Junior, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Zahid Mahmood, Naseem Shah. Australia squad: Pat Cummins (captain), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, MarnusLabuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Mark Steketee, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner. Match officials: Aleem Dar and Ahsan Raza (on-field), Asif Yaqoob (third umpire), Rashid Riaz (fourth umpire); RanjanMadugalle (match referee).