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Pakistan firm favourites against unsettled Bangladesh
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Pakistan firm favourites against unsettled Bangladesh

Bangladesh has returned to Pakistan for the Test series leg of the tour and both teams had a rigorous practice session today on the eve of Rawalpindi Test. 

Pakistan would be buoyed up after returning to winning ways as they eased through to victory against Sri Lanka in the Test series in December and the hosts would dearly like to stretch their winning streak against Bangladesh, who miss several regulars. 

Bangladesh, on the other hand, have an unsettled line-up with the likes of Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan unavailable and bowling spearhead Mustifizur Rahman dropped from the side after failing to locate his mojo in the recently concluded T20I series in Lahore.

Moreover, the touring party finds itself in a rut after being unable to taste victory for the most part of 2019 and they desperately need a win to kick off their ICC Test Championship campaign.

Babar Azam and Abid Ali regaled the crowd with amusing centuries on the fifth day of the soggy Rawalpindi Test against the islanders and then Pakistan won emphatically in the second Test in Karachi by a whopping margin of 263 runs. The tourists must get their act together and up the ante to challenge a side which has looked solid in home conditions.

The pace arsenal of Pakistan was on top of their game and after the taxing tour of Australia, the bowlers seem to have learned voluminously. The 17-year-old phenom, Naseem Shah, was particularly menacing and bagged a fifer in the second innings and showed marked improvement after the Down Under tour. 

The batting unit is in good shape with top four contributing heavily and scoring the bulk of the runs in the recent series. The addition of Abid Ali proved to be a good omen for Pakistan as the late bloomer scored heaps of runs - 212 in the Karachi Test - and grabbed his opportunity with both hands. 

Babar Azam continues to grow in stature and has stamped his authority in the Test format. He is expected to continue along his merry way.

Yasir Shah has been off-colour but he showed glimpses of brilliance in the dying moments of the Karachi Test as after remaining wicketless in the first innings, he managed to get two scalps second time around and bowled with better rhythm and loop. 

However, he will be under the scanner and the lack of wrist spinners in the circuit poses a problem for Pakistan think-tank to find Yasir's back-up in case of an unabating dip in form or an injury.

Bangladesh batting will hinge on Tamim Iqbal who scored a triple ton in a domestic game of late and will have to bat for long periods of time with an inexperienced batting line-up. 

Test skipper Mominul Haque and Liton Das are other dependables who will need to soak pressure, especially against the new cherry, and weather the storm from Naseem and Shaheen Afridi.

The comeback of Faheem Ashraf and Bilal Asif have given Pakistan more depth and options but it looks unlikely for Pakistan to tinker with the winning combination. Fawad Alam is expected to warm the bench after earning a long-awaited call-up to the national team in Sri Lanka series.

Usman Shinwari and Kashif Bhatti have been axed from the squad rather haphazardly. The former didn't get an extended run to prove his mettle and the latter is yet to make an international debut which raises some questions on the selection policy.

The weather is expected to stay clear with no chances of rain and the surface at Rawalpindi stadium offers a bit more bounce than the other venues in Pakistan. 

A packed house is expected to turn up for the Test as Pakistan fans celebrate the resumption of cricket in Pakistan which is increasingly becoming a normalized affair. 

Pakistan squad

Azhar Ali (c), Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Bilal Asif, Faheem Ashraf, Fawad Alam, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Imran Khan Snr, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Yasir Shah

Bangladesh squad

Mominul Haque (c), Tamim Iqbal, Mahmudullah, Soumya Sarkar, Liton Das, Najmul Hossain Shanto, Mohammad Mithun, Nayeem Hasan, Saif Hassan, Taijul Islam, Abu Jayed, Al-Amin Hossain, Rubel Hossain, Ebadot Hossain