Monday, November 28, 2022

Can Pakistan put together a fight against Australia that has been hit by Covid?


Only Zimbabwe and the Netherlands have won fewer ODIs in this World Cup cycle than Babar Azam’s men

Big picture

If there were optimists who believed that the EDI series would gradually pick up interest once the ball rolled, what the first game yielded would have done much to quench that kind of positive thinking. In a textbook example of why the 50-over format is still struggling for relevance despite the advent of the World Cup Super League and a one-day tournament on the horizon, Lahore has seen an overall mismatch. Australia benefited from a sluggish start from the hosts and never completely abandoned that advantage, while Pakistan’s chase gave the impression that they were still playing cricket, stuck in 1998, the year then, as everyone surely now indicated, Australia was last here. .
That it looks like the second match is underway is in itself something of a relief, after further Covid-19 cases in the Australian camp put them on the threshold of falling below the minimum threshold of players (13) needed to continue a tour. Ashton Agar’s positive result before the first one – day match has raised fears of further absences, but all members of the travel company tested negative on Wednesday, and for now it looks like the tour will continue.
Unlike the Test series, this one-day leg does not make full headlines, not least because of political drama in Islamabad that has fascinated the nation for some time now. This was what necessitated the shift of the white ball series from Rawalpindi to Lahore, and from the front pages to back pages. If this is where cricket stays over the long term, it should be something of a victory for Pakistan as it would mean that the sport is treated with the normality that most other nations take for granted.

As for the cricket itself, Pakistan will have to be careful not to get sucked into a scrape for qualifying for the 2023 World Cup. Only Zimbabwe and the Netherlands have won fewer matches in this cycle, and should they not cross this line, their path to India could eventually go through Zimbabwe (where the qualifiers will be held).

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For Australia, it was simply the perfect one-day match, and an extension of their stranglehold over the hosts this tour. After making all the runs in the Test series, there was no sign of a decline in the first one-dayer, despite a team that is to skin and bone. Indeed, it never really felt like Australia came out of third gear to achieve the victory, and against weak Pakistani resistance, they never needed it.

Form guide

Pakistan LLLLW (last five matches completed, most recent first)
Australia WWLWL

In the spotlight

Pakistan will struggle to draw much encouragement from the first match, but in an individual capacity, Zahid Mahmood can feel he has a day he can build on. Perhaps unfortunate to miss all three Tests, as Pakistan’s front-line turnaround options could not impress, there were highlights of true quality in Mahmood’s play on Tuesday. The runner-up conceded 30 of the first three while Australia’s opening partnership was in full swing, but when he removed Aaron Finch in the third over, he was by far the choice of the Pakistani bowlers. He applied something of a push through the midfield overs and managed enough drift and turn to keep Australia on their toes. On another day, maybe Thursday, he might play the role that Adam Zampa almost patented for Australia.
It’s hard to look too far past Cameron Green these days. After an excellent Test series where he was often the bête noire in Pakistan, especially with the ball, his form with the bat emerged in Lahore. That translated very neatly into the white ball game, his unbeaten 30-ball 40 picked up the momentum for Australia again after Pakistan fought back through the second half of the innings. The 22-year-old versatile player’s growing importance to this team was reflected in Finch giving the new ball to him. In an Australian team hampered by Covid and injuries, it’s hard to attach value to his versatility.

Team news

Shaheen Shah Afridi should return if he can shake off the knee injury he sustained while batting in the nets before the first one-dayer. In that case, Hasan Ali is the most likely to make room.

Pakistan (possibly): 1 Fakhar Zaman 2 Imam-ul-Haq 3 Babar Azam (captain) 4 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 5 Saud Shakeel 6 Iftikhar Ahmed 7 Khushdil Shah 8 Mohammad Wasim Jnr 9 Haris Rauf 10 Zahid Mahmood Afridi 11 Shaheen

For Australia, it’s a case of game currently available, with the team able to field about an XI.

Australia: 1 Aaron Finch (capt) 2 Travis Head 3 Ben McDermott 4 Marnus Labuschagne 5 Marcus Stoinis, 6 Cameron Green 7 Alex Carey (wk) 8 Sean Abbott 9 Nathan Ellis 10 Adam Zampa 11 Mitchell Swepson

Pitch and conditions

The weather remains warm and dry, and the wicket is expected to be conducive to big runs again.

Statistics and trivia

  • Australia have won the last ten ODIs against Pakistan, and 16 of the last 17.
  • The last time Pakistan beat Australia at Gaddafi Stadium came back in full in 1988. Craig McDermott, whose son Ben is now part of the Australian team, played that day, as did current PCB chairman Ramiz Raja. The match was technically tied, with both sides scoring 229, but Pakistan won because they lost one wicket less.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ Danny61000

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