PERTH: Pakistan believe they are capable of making short work of Australia’s middle order in Friday’s Twenty20 International series decider in Perth, according to their veteran fast bowler Wahab Riaz.
That’s if they can get through the world-class batsmen standing in their way. The combination of Aaron Finch, David Warner and Steve Smith is already threatening to become the most potent top order in Twenty20 international cricket.
In the five T20s he has played since returning from suspension — including a 3-0 series whitewash of Sri Lanka and two games against Pakistan — Warner has plundered 239 runs and only been dismissed once.
Smith has been similarly potent, compiling an unbeaten 80 off 51 balls in Sydney to hand Australia a 1-0 series lead over Pakistan.
Australia’s batting has been so dominant with the addition of Smith and Warner that Alex Carey, nominally batting at No.6, has yet to face a ball since their return.
With Glenn Maxwell absent from the team as he deals with a mental health issue, Wahab believes there is a level of vulnerability in Australia’s middle order of Ashton Turner, Ben McDermott and Carey.
“Warner and Smith, they are world-class batsmen and we know they are very destructive as well,” Wahab told reporters at the Perth Stadium on Thursday. “Same goes with Finch as well. If we got three early wickets — if we get Finch, Warner and Smith out early — then I think we can easily go through the middle order and the tailenders against Australia.”
Pakistan’s hopes of levelling the series at the Perth Stadium will also rest upon a more even batting contribution, with skipper Babar Azam — the world’s No.1-ranked T20 batsman — scoring half-centuries in both games but lacking support.
“He’s leading from the front,” Wahab said. “You’ve seen him batting in the first two games — he’s been very confident, he’s scoring runs. And obviously it’s a new challenge for him and he will get more confidence and he will get more experience as he progresses in his career.”
Meanwhile, Australia’s spin twins Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar sense they’re building a special relationship in the national T20 side that could play a key role in next year’s World Cup.
Australia’s hot recent form in cricket’s shortest format has coincided with national selectors utilising two specialist spinners after years of picking just one slow bowler in their 20-over side.
Between the end of the 2016 World Cup and the start of this summer, Australia had picked two frontline spinners in just five of 28 T20 games, opting instead for a pace-heavy attack as well as the all-round spin talents of players like Maxwell.
But the union of Agar and Zampa at the start of this season, as well as the returns of premier quicks Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, has resulted in strong Australian bowling performances against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in recent weeks, with the touring teams yet to pass 150 in five games.
“We’ve proven … in the past five games (that we can play two spinners),” Zampa said on Thursday. “It makes it easier for Ash and I when we get early wickets, which is what Starcy and Cummins do so well.
“If we can continue to do that, we can almost play two spinners everywhere. “Especially with Ash [batting] at No.7 … obviously he’s the all-rounder in the team and that makes it an even better scenario.
“Obviously we’ve got a goal to be there together at the T20 World Cup at the end of [next] year so the more we help each other, the more chance we’ve got of winning games and being there for that.
“We communicate really well out on the ground. That’s something that we’re really working on. He’s a different bowler to what I am but we are similar in some aspects, so the communication is something that is a big part of our combination.”
Pakistan boast some outstanding players of spin, and their hopes of levelling the series could depend on their ability to extract maximum value from the middle overs.
“I think they’ve milked us quite well, a little bit better than what Sri Lanka did,” Zampa said of Pakistan’s approach to Australia’s spin duo. “But they haven’t taken too many risks, probably due to the fact that we’ve got early wickets and they’re trying to rebuild through the middle.
“They’re obviously really good players. You’ve seen Babar Azam and the way he’s playing at the moment — he’s really tough to bowl to.”
Victory in Perth on Friday would take Australia’s unbeaten streak in T20s to eight matches and represent the first time they’ve gone a calendar year without suffering a defeat in the format. The hosts, in the meantime, have rested star fast bowler Pat Cummins from Friday’s fixture while bringing in Sean Abbott for his fourth T20 International.
AUSTRALIA: David Warner, Aaron Finch (captain), Steve Smith, Ben McDermott, Ashton Turner, Alex Carey, Ashton Agar, Sean Abbott, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Kane Richardson, Pat Cummins, Billy Stanlake.
PAKISTAN: Babar Azam (captain), Imam-ul-Haq, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan, Haris Sohail, Khushdil Shah, Imad Wasim, Wahab Riaz, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Irfan, Musa Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Asif Ali, Usman Qadir.
Umpires: Paul Wilson (Australia) and Sam Nogajski (Australia).
TV umpire: Gerard Abood (Australia).
Match referee: Javagal Srinath (India).
Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2019