Joe Burns and David Warner are determined to spend time in the middle. Picture: Darren England/AAP
Joe Burns and David Warner are determined to spend time in the middle. Picture: Darren England/AAP

Fickle underdogs look dangerous

THE pressure is on Australia ahead of the two-Test series against Pakistan - one of the best underdogs in world cricket.

That is the verdict of Fox Cricket commentator and former Aussie leg spinner Kerry O'Keeffe.

Despite Australia's retention of the Ashes, albeit by drawing the series in England 2-2, O'Keeffe said Tim Paine's team must defeat Pakistan, and New Zealand later in the year, to get some credit in the bank after last year's groundbreaking series loss to India.

Like the Indians, who had not won a series Down Under before last summer, Pakistan have also suffered away at the hands of Australia in this country.

They are yet to win a Test series here, having lost nine and drawn two - as well as drawing a one-off match on their first visit in 1964.

O'Keeffe said Australia would go in as the favourites but could find themselves in trouble if they took the visitors lightly.

"Pakistan is one of the best underdogs in world cricket," O'Keeffe said. "If you call Pakistan a favourite, they won't perform.

"If you say they are not expected to win, they are liable to beat you.

"This is a banana skin summer. There's a bit of momentum after retaining the Ashes even though the series was 2-2.

"We lost last year to India - you never lose at home - so there's a degree of pressure on the Australians. They cannot afford to drop either of these two series.

"But potentially, Pakistan can beat them."

O'Keeffe said one of the keys to success against Pakistan would be stopping their star batsmen, Babar Azam and captain Azhar Ali, dominate the home side's bowlers the same way that Cheteshwar Pujara did in India's breakthrough series last summer.

"India wore us down last year," O'Keeffe said.

"Pujara got so many runs and the bowlers were tired at the end of the series.

"I am interested to see if there is a policy with the fast bowlers, because with Mitchell Marsh unavailable they will play a non-bowling No.6, which means the burden of all the bowling will fall to four players.

"I think the Australian attack like to have that fifth bowler - someone like Marsh.

"As maligned as he is, he can bowl some good overs in Test cricket.

"If you just play the batsman at six, if someone bats a long time against them, such as Babar Azam or Azhar Ali, then they are going to get tired."

O'Keeffe said there were a number of players going into the first Test at the Gabba who were under pressure to perform well.

"(Steve) Smith and (David) Warner are a firm on Australian pitches and, if you look at the numbers, they just platform every Australian Test series," he said.

"When they weren't here last year we got beaten at home.

"Joe Burns and Travis Head (at No.6) will be under pressure because not everyone's convinced about those two positions.

"The question over Matthew Wade is can he do it in Australia.

"I think he's a very good player and has every right to be there."