LAHORE: Cornered by Australia, Pakistan once again face a mighty task at the Gaddafi Stadium.
Having lost the three-Test series 1-0 at the same venue, Babar Azam and his men on Thursday meet a largely inexperienced yet professional Australian side in the second ODI that would decide the fate of the three-game rubber.
Tuesday’s 88-run loss was Pakistan’s tenth consecutive
ODI defeat at the hands of Australia, currently third on ICC one-day rankings. Therefore, Babar and his troops are duly expected to enhance their game to engineer a victory on Thursday and take the series into the third encounter.
Without experienced campaigners like Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Steve Smith, David Warner and Glenn Maxwell due to different reasons, the Aaron Finch-led Aussies still ruled the roost in the first ODI giving a wake-up call to Pakistan, who perhaps only missed their pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi who was injured.
Opener Imam-ul-Haq’s century and Babar’s half-century in the series opener in the end had no impact that signified the strength of the tourists and exposed the hosts’ weaknesses in all departments.
Leg-spinner Adam Zampa’s 4-38 on Tuesday proved the chief tormentor for the Pakistan batters who, except for Imam, could not handle pressure of a big chase.
Pakistan’s bowling also lacked the sting which allowed Australia to post a huge 313-7. A Shaheen-less bowling attack comprising experienced pacer Hasan Ali, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah plus debutants Mohammad Wasim and Zahid Mahmood could not stop the Australian onslaught led by opener Travis Head’s 72-ball 101.
Pakistan head coach Saqlain Mushtaq, however, said his team had the talent to stage a comeback in the series.
“We should accept the [ODI] defeat, and will learn the lessons from this,” he said after the first match on Tuesday.
“I don’t believe that our team played in the first ODI under any physiological pressure but the fact is that Australia played better and won,” Saqlain, a former off-spin great, said.
Meanwhile, Head, the man-of-the-match of the first ODI, said he played the aggressive knock according to a set plan, which proved successful.
“It was easy to play the new ball and the start with captain Aaron Finch was also a good one,” Head said, who also claimed two wickets on Tuesday.
Despite some Australian players were out due to injury or Covid-19, still Australia played good cricket, Head added.
Overall, Pakistan looked a depleted side despite having all weapons barring Shaheen, while the Australian youngsters met the challenge in a very professional way.
And if Pakistan fail to produce an improved performance on Thursday, it will raise serious questions over the standard and talent of the hosts’ players.
Pakistan need precious points from this ODI series to keep alive their hopes to qualify for the 2023 World Cup to be held in India. Currently, the greenshirts are 10th on the table, while seven top countries will qualify for the showpiece.
On the other end, Australia will try to maintain the winning momentum and clinch the series on Thursday.
The pitch is likely to be batting-friendly but also looking good for spinners.
According to news coming from the Pakistan camp, the decision about Shaheen’s inclusion in the playing XI will be taken on Thursday.
Left-armer Shaheen was injured in the net practice ahead of the ODI series.
Meanwhile, Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh has been ruled out of the remaining limited-overs series in Pakistan because of a hip injury.
Marsh will join Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League to continue his recovery from the low-grade hip flexor injury he sustained during practice ahead of the ODI series in Lahore.
“Being able to focus on my recovery without the travel and isolation break is the best approach,” Marsh said on Wednesday.
The injury had put Marsh’s participation in the IPL in doubt for the third straight year. He missed the IPL in 2021 due to bubble fatigue and sustained an ankle injury early in the 2020 season.
Marsh had been scheduled to miss Delhi’s first three IPL games because of his commitments with the Australian team’s Pakistan tour ending on April 5.
PAKISTAN (likely): Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan (wicket-keeper), Saud Shakeel, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Haris Rauf, Zahid Mahmood, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usman Qadir, Asif Ali, Shahnawaz Dahani
AUSTRALIA: Travis Head, Aaron Finch (captain), Ben McDermott, Marnus Labuschagne, Marcus Stoinis, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wicket-keeper), Sean Abbott, Nathan Ellis, Adam Zampa, Mitchell Swepson.
Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2022