With Pakistan having rested several senior players, Australia should be well-placed to continue the good work started in India when they clash in the first one-day international on Friday, 22 March.
Pakistan v Australia
Sharjah Cricket Stadium
Friday, 22 March; 15.00 hrs local time, 11.00am GMT
Just a month ago, Australia were a dwindling force, with serious questions to answer ahead of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019. Defeat to India at home came after a string of disappointments in a format they are the reigning world champions in.
Then, they came to India when nobody gave them a chance and went 0-2 down. But they bounced back remarkably to win the next three games and clinch the series – their first series win in ODIs since January 2017. Now, they are once again a team to be wary of, having sent out a timely reminder of why they are five-time World Cup winners.
So much changed for Australia in that India series. Aaron Finch ended a run drought with his first fifty-plus score in ten innings. Usman Khawaja has laid serious claim to the opening slot for the first time since being recalled to the ODI side with two centuries and a 90 against India. With their return to form, Australia now suddenly seem to possess a potent top-order.
Glenn Maxwell, who has been in outstanding form lately, is now the lynchpin of the middle order. Peter Handscomb is starting to peak at the right juncture. Ashton Turner created huge impact in very short time, and played the innings of the series against India.
This is an era when wrist-spinners have a direct say in teams winning, and Australia have found theirs in Adam Zampa. There’s also Nathan Lyon, who has evolved into one of the world’s leading spinners, and Pat Cummins, who has become a workhorse, winning matches with bat and ball.
The only thing ailing Australia is a stomach bug that has hit the team since arriving in the UAE. It has already cast doubt over Maxwell’s participation in the first ODI. Lyon also missed training on Tuesday, although he may be good to go now and partner Zampa to form a two-pronged spin attack. Australia will also welcome the return of Nathan Coulter-Nile, who had missed the last three ODIs against India for the birth of his second child.
Pakistan might be No. 6 in the MRF Tyres ICC ODI Team Rankings, but don’t let that fool you. They haven’t lost a series in the UAE since 2015, blanking West Indies and Sri Lanka, and holding a powerful New Zealand side to a 1-1 draw.
However, they are missing several key players for this series. Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, top-order batsmen Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam, leg-spinner Shadab Khan, and fast bowlers Hasan Ali and Shaheen Afridi have all been rested. Mohammad Hafeez has also not been considered as he continues to recover from thumb surgery. Shoaib Malik will assume captaincy duties in Ahmed’s absence.
With so many big names out, it puts Umar Akmal in line for his first international for Pakistan since January 2017. Akmal, who was sent back from the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 after failing a fitness test, was recalled for this series. Pakistan have also included Test regulars Yasir Shah and Mohammad Abbas, uncapped 31-year-old Abid Ali, and Mohammad Hasnain, the 18-year-old right-arm medium-pacer, all of whom lend freshness to the squad.
Shoaib Malik (Pakistan): The onus is on Pakistan’s stand-in captain to shepherd the squad in the absence of so many senior players. At 37, Malik continues to be of immense utility to the Pakistan side. This series will also be an opportunity for him to rectify a middling record against Australia – 567 runs in 23 innings at 27 and a strike-rate of 60.
Pat Cummins (Australia): The fast bowler is undoubtedly Australia’s most valuable player at the moment. From an injury-prone rookie with immense talent, Cummins has evolved into an untiring bowling machine, holding up for long periods of time as he bends his back and generates pace. Cummins can also hold fort with the bat and finish off games, as he demonstrated in the first T20I against India, when he walked in with seven balls remaining and finished off a tough chase, with Australia requiring 14 off the last over.
The Sharjah Cricket Stadium has for long been Pakistan’s bastion in one-day cricket. Their 83 wins at this ground are by far their highest at any venue, with Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium coming in second with 31 victories. Temperatures are expected to hover around 27°C on Friday.
Pakistan: Shoaib Malik (c), Mohammad Abbas, Umar Akmal, Abid Ali, Saad Ali, Mohammad Amir, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Hasnain, Junaid Khan, Shan Masood, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Yasir Shah, Usman Shinwari, Haris Sohail, Imam ul-Haq, Imad Wasim
Australia: Aaron Finch (c), Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Marcus Stoinis, Ashton Turner, Adam Zampa
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