After Australia suffered a demoralising home series loss to South Africa last month to kick off the summer of cricket, there were calls for heavy change to the Aussie side. The team was cleaned out and a comprehensive One-Day series whitewash of New Zealand followed to help ease the pain that South Africa left behind, but Steve Smith's men aren't out of the woods yet.
Standing in the way of an Australian revival is a fierce Pakistan outfit full of serious firepower and talent. Back in August, Pakistan reached no. 1 in the ICC Test team rankings for the first time in their history, with their rise to the top built off a run of six consecutive Test series without defeat. However, a 2-0 series loss in New Zealand last month saw the Pakistanis drop to fourth in the rankings, but the side led by former Australia coach Mickey Arthur has reason to take confidence to the hosts this summer.
The key to Pakistani success Down Under is Mohammad Amir. Another prodigious left-arm fast bowler from the 'land of the pure', Amir is walking in the footsteps of Pakistan's ageless fast-bowling heroes, Shoaib Akhtar, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram.
From a young age, Amir played street cricket, often trying to emulate the swagger and wicket-taking prowess of Akram. He was quoted as saying, "Wasim Akram is my favourite, he's my idol. When I used to watch him on TV, I would try to see what exactly he was doing with the ball. Then, I would go outside and imitate his actions and bowling."
Spotted playing at a local competition in 2003, an 11-year-old Amir was invited to join a sports academy set up in Rawalpindi. When Amir turned 15, he was selected as a fast bowler by Akram at a fast bowling camp in 2007. A fresh-faced Amir, with no knowledge of the outside world, went on a tour of England with the Pakistan U-19 cricket team. Headlines followed him everywhere he went, with his extraordinary swing and military-like precision earning wickets and plaudits from cricket gurus.
At just 17, he made his Test debut in Sri Lanka and took six wickets, including the prized scalp of batting monolith Kumar Sangakkara not once, but twice, in the same match. He then jumped on a plane to tour Australia and, during the Boxing Day Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the wunderkind took his first five wicket haul, snagging the wickets of Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke. A few months later, he was again the chief destroyer as he helped roll the Aussies for a paltry team total of 88 in a neutral Test match in England, guiding Pakistan to their first Test win against Australia in 15 years. Stunningly, by the time he was 18, he had already taken 50 wickets in Test match cricket.
It was obvious that Amir, a kid from the dusty streets of Changa Bangial in central Pakistan, was a superstar in the making. However, when Pakistan toured England later in 2010, Amir's life changed.
During the Test series against England, Amir was accused of bowling deliberate no-balls during the Test match at Lord's so he could satisfy betting markets, charges to which he eventually pleaded guilty. His captain Salman Butt and fellow paceman Mohammad Asif were also hit with match-fixing accusations. However, where the senior duo of Butt and Asif were given life bans in addition to their prison sentences, Amir was pardoned, due to his young age and immaturity.
Amir still served time behind bars, albeit three months that ended in February 2012, but was banned from cricket for five years. Despite making frequent apologies and appeals for forgiveness, the trust in Amir was shattered. Many sympathised with the youngster, saying that his age was a major factor that triggered his vulnerability to the predatory actions of the betting syndicate. Regardless, Amir was and is still seen as a criminal, but he managed to revitalise his cricket dream by working his way back into the national team once his suspension ended.
As expected, some players were hesitant to call Amir their teammate. However, the doubters were silenced and he eventually made his Test return five months ago at, of all places, Lord's. He fittingly took the last wicket of the match to seal Pakistan's extraordinary victory over England. Furthermore, he helped steer his nation to the pinnacle of world cricket, six years after he had reached rock-bottom.
All of this, and he's still only 24 years old.
Now back in Australia for what could prove to be a career-defining tour, Amir holds the trump card to Pakistan's summer against the Aussies. The prospect of Amir bowling under lights with a pink ball at the Gabba in Brisbane is a tantalising threat to the somewhat-frail Aussie batting order. He put on a swing-bowling clinic in a tour match against a Cricket Australia XI in Cairns last week, where he took five wickets. The signs are there.
Nevertheless, with the suffering now over for Amir, the only way is up, and cricket is his medicine. "Life was very tough and there were times I thought I might not be able to play again," he told Sky Sports during this year's series against England.
"I didn't pick up a ball for three years. It was very depressing. The main aim for me (now) is to be the world's best bowler."