HARARE: A charged up Pakistan face Australia in the Twenty20 tri-series final here at the Harare Sports Club on Sunday.
Both sides come into the summit showdown off the back of three victories out of four in the round-robin stage. In the two previous matches between the two sides in this tri-series, the honours were shared equally with each side recording a win — and comfortably downing Zimbabwe in the other matches.
Before the tri-series, Australia had the chance of surpassing the top-ranked Pakistan in the ICC T20 rankings. That opportunity vanished with Pakistan’s impressive 45-run win over the Aussies last Thursday. With England and India currently locked at 1-1 in their three-match T20 series, it means that Sarfraz Ahmed’s men will hold on to their crown irrespective of Sunday’s outcome.
However, Pakistan will want to consolidate their top spot and extend their current six-point lead over second-ranked India as well as their seven-point lead over the third-ranked Aussies.
Pakistan’s win over Australia in the dead-rubber clash has given Sarfraz selection headache. Teenage pacer Shaheen Afridi impressed in only his second T20 outing for Pakistan by picking up a three-wicket haul.
With plenty of pacers at his disposal, the Pakistan skipper is faced with a tough choice between playing Afridi or sticking to the experience pairing of Hasan Ali and Usman Khan. Pace spearhead Mohammad Amir sat out the side’s first two games in the series and will lead the attack in the final in all probability.
That would mean Sarfraz will need to leave out one of Hasan Ali, Afridi or Usman in the final.
Australia arrived in Zimbabwe following a crushing 6-0 whitewash at the hands of England in the limited-overs clashes. Finch and his men have given a much better account of themselves in the African nation although they still look far from the finished article. With skipper Aaron Finch rediscovering his form and Glenn Maxwell finding his touch too, the Aussies are starting to become a much more potent unit.
With pacer Billy Stanlake in devastating form with the new ball, Justin Langer’s men will fancy their chances of a first series win since the ugly aftermath of the ball-tampering scandal.
Meanwhile, Finch has named Pakistan’s biggest threat ahead of the final.
With scores of 61, 47 and 73 in the T20 Tri-series already, Fakhar Zaman has been an anchor atop the Pakistani order and Finch knows his wicket will be crucial.
“I think Fakhar has been outstanding and a real thorn in our side. He’s also been consistent in this format for a long time,” Finch said. “In T20 cricket a lot of the time it’s the openers that set the tone, Fakhar is in good form.”
The Australia captain’s 2018 T20 form has been excellent, as he accumulated more than 400 runs including a mighty 172 against Zimbabwe.
But despite his two most recent outings being well below his lofty standards, Finch remains optimistic.
“I feel like I’m playing very well at the moment, I’m not too bothered by a couple of low scores to be honest,” he said. “T20 cricket tends to be a little high risk at the start of the innings, as long as I’m moving well and hitting the ball in the middle of the bat, I’m pretty confident.
“Hopefully I can get a few [runs] in the final.”
Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2018