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Preview: Put the runs on the board, simple

August 30, 2012


Shoaib Malik may get a nod over a fast bowler, although it would take a very brave captain to go into a crucial encounter with only one seamer. -Photo by AFP

Match: 2nd ODI Pakistan vs Australia (Australia Lead the 3 match Series 1-0)

Venue: Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Date & Time: Friday Aug 31st 2012, 19:00 PST / 14:00 GMT

Overall Rivalry: Dominance; Australia 53 wins Pakistan 30 wins

Momentum in the last 5 encounters: Carnage; Australia-4 Pakistan-1

Weather Report: Sulking hot with a warm breeze. Partly cloudy but no chances of rain. Low of 30 Celsius with a high of 41 Celsius. Winds at 15 to 25 km/h. Plenty of water intake is advised.

The 22-yard report: The pitch is expected to support spin and the ball might not hurry onto the bat. The captain winning the toss will most likely bat first. Only 8 out of 19 chases have been successful at this ground. However, it is the first time both innings will be played under lights which should reduce the disparity in conditions between the two innings.

Game On: Old folklore narrates that Pakistan is blessed while playing matches on Friday in UAE. This story finds its root in Sharjah where in the 90’s Pakistan triumphed over arch rival India in numerous finals held on Friday. The religious reverence of Friday gave the story extra mileage for the Arab residents who poured in big numbers to the ground on their weekend; Friday in the region is the true equivalent of a Sunday in the west.

A more logical explanation of the depicted Friday wins could be the quality of the Pakistani team in the 90’s, a lot has changed since then. Pakistan went into this series with back to back series losses to England (0-4) and Sri Lanka (3-1) in familiar conditions and now finds itself 0-1 down in the current series. Some respite was provided by the lucky Asia Cup win against Bangladesh in the final.  To further Pakistan’s worry, it has been over a decade since they won a series against the Aussies.

Australia itself has not had a very good run recently, conceding its number one ranking last month that it held for a staggering 117 weeks out of a total of 128 since the rankings started in 2002. It has also quickly slipped down to number 4 after losing 4-0 to England.

Australia will look to polish of Pakistan and seal the series in Abu Dhabi so it can crawl its way up the ranking and also get to test its bench strength in the last game in Sharjah. The Australian bowling looks decent when matched against a frail Pakistani batting line. Man of the match in the first game, Mitchel Starc, got his first five-wicket haul and will look to carry forward his momentum on Friday.

The Aussie batsmen need to buckle up when facing the potent Pakistani spin trio. Two Michaels, the Captain and Mr. Cricket hold the fort in the middle-order, being the only ones with an average of over 40 or substantial experience. However, their inexperienced lower order showed maturity to steady ship. Their openers are not very consistent but the two lefties are positioned there to get them off to a flyer. The nemesis for left-hand batsmen and number one ODI bowler in the world, Mohammed Hafeez, will have other ideas if given the new ball again, which is very likely. Also, how they face the Saeed Ajmal threat and read his doosra will hold the key to their batting performance.

Pakistani batsmen on the other hand need to making themselves counted after their lacklustre performance on Tuesday. Four of their batsmen got starts and two of them half centuries. Yet they managed to accumulate only 198 runs and failed to bat 50 overs. The Pakistani batting collapse seems to have become customary and it comes as a surprise when it goes missing in the scorebook.

Batsmen number 3 to 6, who form the heart of the Pakistani batting line, have scored 46 half centuries amongst them with only a solitary hundred. Leading the appalling statistic is captain Misbah-ul-Haq, scoring 20 fifties, but is yet to achieve three figures. This inability of conversion is the primary reason of Pakistan not achieving big totals or even respectable ones in most outings.

Game Changer: On Tuesday, Australia needed 34 runs of 36 balls with 5 wickets in hand and Pakistan had to throw its last card. The captain threw the cherry to Sohail Tanvir who conceded 14 runs and the game was all but over. Ajmal with two allotted overs remaining picked up a wicket with the third ball of the next over but it had come one over too late.

Pre-Game Talk: “We were sure about the target today but we lost the way. We committed mistakes, mistakes we have been repeating in the last two or three series but we can't win matches if we continue to do that." Misbah knows where the mistakes lie but can he rectify them?

"We knew he was going to be a key bowler and I think that's one of the real focuses we'll have going in to Abu Dhabi is how we play him, and try to milk him a little bit better and try not to give him his wickets.” George Bailey is weary of the Ajmal effect.

Australia, last XI fielded: 1 Matthew Wade (wk), 2 David Warner, 3 Michael Clarke (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 David Hussey, 6 George Bailey, 7 Glenn Maxwell, 8 Daniel Christian, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Mitchell Starc, 11 James Pattinson

Pakistan, last XI fielded: 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Asad Shafiq, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Shahid Afridi, 9 Sohail Tanvir, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Aizaz Cheema

Possible Changes: Australia might go in without shuffling to keep their winning combination intact. However, the sticky turning wickets of UAE may make them consider left-arm orthodox spinner Xavier Doherty in place of one of their faster men. Pakistan has taken 16 players for a three-match series from which young pacers Anwar Ali or Junaid Khan could get the nod. Shoaib Malik may be considered as a replacement for a fast bowler, adding one more spin option and strengthening the batting line up. Pakistani fast bowlers rarely bowl their allotted quota in UAE but going in with just one fast bowler is unlikely; it will take a brave captain to do otherwise.

Trivia Quiz: Who are the two Pakistani cricketers to have more career runs than Misbah-ul-Haq without scoring a century? Hint: They have both captained Pakistan (Answer will be published in the 3rd ODI preview)

Final Words: Pakistan finds itself in a very familiar do or die situation and needs an inspirational performance from within its own ranks. Australia will go in as favorites but Pakistan performs best with its back to the wall and will need all the Friday blessings to level the series. A good crowd is expected to come in and support the hosts.

The writer grew up in a home with sports as its religion and “The Cricketer” subscription of black and white pages as holy script. He resides in Istanbul and can be reached here.