Off-field noise dominates build-up to Pakistan's tough tour and Warner's farewell

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Warm-up match questions: Pakistan's selections, Warner's successor, and more (1:59)

Andrew McGlashan looks at the questions for both camps ahead of the tour match starting Wednesday (1:59)

It is perhaps symbolic at the start of a Test season where there are doubts about how competitive the men's opposition will be that most of the noise is coming from fractured relationships between two generations of the Australian team rather than the contest that lies ahead against Pakistan.

The fallout from Mitchell Johnson's hard-hitting column, which included some noteworthy points of discussion that may have got somewhat lost in the storm, continues to dominate much of the talk. At the moment there seems as much interest in what happens when he crosses paths with the current team during the first Test in Perth, where he'll be a commentator, as to what could actually happen on the field.

In a way that is not entirely surprising. Pakistan have only won four Tests in Australia and none since 1995, although they came close to a famous chase at the Gabba in 2016. Last time they toured in 2019-2020, the home side piled up 580 and 589 for 3 in the two Tests to win both by an innings. For the record, David Warner made 154 and 335 not out.

Pakistan have arrived enveloped in a not-unfamiliar sense of chaos with a new captain in Shan Masood, a hastily pieced-together support staff and minus one of their most exciting fast bowlers, the injured Naseem Shah. While not directly related to this tour, the recent 24-hour saga around Salman Butt being named as a selector just added another slightly surreal level to it all.

Not that coming to Australia for a Test series as underdogs is an unusual experience for most sides - and they usually leave with some painful results. It is what has made India's recent success stand out so much, and before them South Africa's.

It would be a huge upset if Pakistan took a game off Australia, let alone the series, and the fact that three competitive losses is being suggested in some commentary as a good outcome gives a sign of the low expectations.

After spending a few days shaking off jetlag, Pakistan will ramp up their preparations to try and defy history with a four-day game against the Prime Minister's XI in Canberra, which in all-but name is an Australia A team.

In an era where first-class tour matches have almost become extinct, it is a novelty to see a fixture given such status and treated that way by the selectors - albeit creating tension around the first week of the BBL with some big names missing for their clubs.

However, it is unlikely that the Manuka Oval pitch will offer much of a resemblance to what will be on offer at the Optus Stadium next week. Four years ago Pakistan faced a similarly strong-looking Australia A side in Perth and at one stage had the hosts 57 for 9 after making 428 but were still overwhelmed in Brisbane and Adelaide. It will only become clear how competitive they can be when the Test begins although a strong showing against Australia's second best would lift confidence.

"They've got a lot of Australian internationals, a lot of people knocking on the door so probably an ideal way for us to start," Masood said. "We've been very fortunate that a lot of the guys were part of the 2019 tour, some even came in the 2016 tour. We were lucky to play the T20 World Cup last year, as a batsman I felt those were testing conditions, but we still did a decent job as a batting unit so a lot of guys who have got that experience.

"It's the pace and bounce in Australia, along with their pace attack and Nathan Lyon, which you want to get used to and put under pressure from the word go because they've dominated world cricket for a while."

The main narrative in the PM's XI side is the presence of the three openers who have long been tipped to be battling to replace Warner - until early January his name will never be far from any discussion.

This is the last first-class match that will be played before the selectors have to make a call for the West Indies series. It may not be a bat-off in the strictest sense between Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris and Matt Renshaw because the selectors rarely make a judgement based on one innings or one match, but a century for any of them certainly wouldn't hurt.

Nathan McSweeney, who will captain the side as he continues to grow his leadership experience, confirmed that Bancroft and Harris will open, so if a batting order is any guide Renshaw may be third in the queue, but he is also the most versatile of the three and probably the least disturbed by shuffling down a spot.

"It's obviously an important game and there's potential opportunities for probably a few of the guys. They'll want to make sure they make runs but we want to win a game and that's the goal," McSweeney said. "Everyone will be on the same page and trying to do that. No doubt a few boys have been thinking about it [Test selection], but I'm sure they just want to go out and enjoy the game for what it is and let the results take care of themselves."

There has also been a suggestion in recent days, discussed by head coach Andrew McDonald, that Warner's replacement may not be a like-for-like opener. The fact that notion is being floated suggests there is not an outstanding candidate from the three, although Bancroft's supporters will wonder what else he needs to do. At the Sheffield Shield break he is the leading run-scorer, having comfortably held that mark last season although the tempo he bats at may work against him despite the volume of runs.

Cameron Green will also feature for the PM's XI but is not expected to play much of a role with the ball. He will be looking to build on the impressive 96 he made against Queensland in his first red-ball innings since the Ashes. He is part of the Test squad but likely to remain behind Mitchell Marsh as the series begins. However, he could yet be a central character in the big mid-summer change coming to the team.