SHARJAH: Preparing to confront an inexperienced Pakistan outfit coached by Mickey Arthur, Australia have done their homework.
There was a sense of familiarity when Justin Langer’s team landed in India last month, preparing to square off against a side that had recently spent two months in Australia.
The same can’t be said of the five-match ODI series that starts in Sharjah on Friday.
Captain Sarfraz Ahmed headlines a list of six stars who Pakistan have rested from the entire series, with Arthur keen to ensure his key players are ripe for the World Cup.
Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Abbas, Abid Ali, Saad Ali, Shan Masood are in line to make their ODI debuts this month.
Australia’s 15-man squad studied footage of their opposition on Tuesday prior to hitting the nets.
Leg-spinner Adam Zampa, fresh from the most prolific series of his career in which he regularly got the better of Virat Kohli, predicted another tough challenge for him and his team.
“They’ve obviously got some impressive young guys,” Zampa said ahead of Australia’s first training session in Sharjah. “They’ve rested a few players but going through their team today in our team meeting, they’ve got some really strong guys.
“They’ve got a really strong competition in the PSL (Pakistan Super League) as well, so they’re coming off that and some guys in the team are in form.
“We’ve come off three wins in a row with our backs to the wall, so our confidence is high but we’ve spoken about not taking Pakistan lightly.”
Zampa expects Pakistan will adopt a more aggressive mindset than India when he is bowling. “The Indians are really good at milking, they like to go at five or six an over through the middle without taking too many risks,” he said.
“Whereas the Pakistani guys go quite hard … they’ll choose a period during the game when they’ll take me on, so that’s something I’m up for. I’ll just do my preparation, watch a lot of footage and go from there.”
After his strong show in India, the clamour to include Zampa in the squad for the upcoming World Cup has reached fever pitch. Yet the 26-year-old feels his place is far from assured.
Zampa played a key role in the 3-2 series comeback victory, taking 11 wickets at an average of 25.81 to outduel India’s spinners on their own pitches and claim second on the wicket-taking list behind seamer Pat Cummins.
It was a far cry from Zampa’s first tour of India in 2017 when hard-hitting India all-rounder Hardik Pandya took to him with a gusto and declared he could ‘hit a six off him anytime’.
“Throughout my short career I’ve found it can change really quickly,” Zampa. “I started my career really well, but I’ve had some ups and downs.
“So I’m trying to build on the momentum I have would be great — I know what it’s like to be in and out of the team and be dropped from the squad altogether.
“I’m just trying to make the most of my position at the moment ... I guess taking it one series at a time — it’s a bit of a cliché, but that’s how it is.”
Australia won the 2015 World Cup on home soil without a specialist slow bowler but wrist-spinners have become a must-have in 50-over cricket and occupy half of the top-10 bowlers in the ICC world rankings for the format.
Zampa, who relies less on sharp turn and drift and more on attacking the stumps with deliveries that skid off the pitch, bowled well in tandem with off-spinner Nathan Lyon in India.
Team-mate Shaun Marsh felt Zampa had improved ‘out of sight’ in the lead up to the May 30-July 14 World Cup.
“It’s just his control now, he’s a bit more mature,” he said. “He’s got a bit more of an understanding of what he’s trying to do out there. “I thought he did a fantastic job in all the games (in India) and he took wickets at key times. He’s going to be a big part of this team moving forward.”
Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2019