London: Pakistan`s ability to conjure unity from discord and disarray will be tested to the full in the first of two tests against Australia starting at Lord`s on Tuesday.
Shahid Afridi, who absented himself from test cricket for four years, is the man charged with captaining a team who abound with talent but who too often disintegrate in rancour and infighting.
Pakistan failed to win a match of any description in Australia this year and lost their 12th consecutive test against the Australians. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) responded by banning or fining half the side for under-performing.
Faced with two tests against Australia followed by four against England, the PCB then back-tracked with equal haste by lifting the bans, reducing the fines and even welcoming back their maverick fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar to the one-day team.
The captaincy was given to Afridi, a dynamic all-rounder who has, however, played only 26 tests and took part in only 20 first class matches during his four-year sabbatical.
He has also run foul of the authorities, earning a three-match ban for dancing on the pitch in a test against England in 2005 and a two-match ban for biting the ball in Australia this year. Four months after the second offence he was appointed as Pakistan`s fourth captain since the start of last year.
Afridi, as two Twenty20 victories over Australia this month confirmed, has a fine bunch of bowlers with a pace attack comprising teenager Mohammad Aamer, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul and abundant spin resources in Afridi, Danish Kaneria and Saeed Ajmal.
Their batting, though, looks frail even if Kamal Akmal and his precocious younger brother Umar fire.
Inzamam-ul-Haq, a batsman of massive authority, has been joined in retirement by Mohammad Yousuf, who appears to have grown sick of the constant political infighting, and Younus Khan has not been selected even though his ban was lifted.
The imaginative decision to stage two series in England means that both Australia and England will get a solid workout and a good look at each other before the latest Ashes battle opens in Australia this year.
Wicketkeeper Tim Paine and leg-spinner Steven Smith get an opportunity to press their claims in the absence through injury of Brad Haddin and Nathan Hauritz. Simon Katich and Marcus North return after missing the one-day series against England.