Match: 3rdODI Pakistan vs Australia (3 match Series is tied at 1-1)
Venue: Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Date & Time: Monday, 3rd September 2012, 19:00 PST / 14:00 GMT
Overall Rivalry: Dominance; Australia 53 wins Pakistan 31 wins
Momentum in the last five encounters: Edge; Australia-3 Pakistan-2
Weather Report: Desert heat. Low of 30 Celsius but high humidity is a major cause of dehydration and cramps. Partial cloud covers but no chances of rain.
The 22-yard Report: The spinners will continue to get support while the Australian fast bowlers have already found success twice at the same venue in the previous week. The wicket should have a bit for everyone. Michael Clarke admitted to have made a mistake in Abu Dhabi for batting first but the captain winning the toss on Monday might follow suit.
Game On: The three match series is levelled at one apiece and set up perfectly to give an enthralling final contest. Now it will be the test of nerves. In recent times, Pakistan has found itself in good positions on multiple occasions only to throw it away. On the contrary, Australia has thrived under pressure, regularly snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Confidence and self-belief can do wonders in crunch situations and big games; come Monday it is exactly what everything might well boil down to.
There is a stark difference in the bowling attacks of the two teams; while the Aussies bank on pace, Pakistan almost completely relies on spin. On paper though both teams are evenly matched in strength and there is nothing to choose from. With a relatively vulnerable batting line the onus will once again be on the bowlers to give their respective teams an edge.
THe 38-year-old Misbah-ul-Haq is not getting any younger thus the question of him ending his career is not a matter of 'why' but 'when'. Will he call it a day himself like Andrew Strauss did last week or will he be forced to hang his boots like most of his predecessors? These are questions that Misbah can best find answers for from within himself or his bat. If he fails to deliver, once again Pakistan may find itself searching for a new captain, sooner than later.
New coach Dav Whatmore might already have some influence on key matters while he will look to kick start his stint with the Pakistani team with a rare series win against the country he once represented as a player.
Carrying a self-destruct button, far too often Pakistan has been its own biggest enemy. Their body language can be an immediate indicator of what is going to follow next. The same team can look completely out of sorts on one day and turn up with all guns blazing the next – the first two matches of the series are cases in point. It is the sort of unpredictability that gives Pakistan the X-factor but it is also what it is infamous for.
While the Aussies are more methodical and rational with their cricket, one knows what to expect from them in a decider like this. Be sure for them to fight hard, hold their catches and save every possible run in the field. However, the impetus of the contest will largely depend on which Pakistani team shows up; the one full of hungry tigers or that which so often falls like ninepins.
Game Changer: On Friday, Nasir Jamshed was given out leg before in the third over of the innings when he was batting on 4. The UDRS came into play and the replay showed the ball pitching outside leg, case closed. He went on to score a brisk match winning 97 on a day that could have ended a lot earlier for him. What would have happened as a consequence of Pakistan losing an early wicket chasing a target of 249 will never be known, courtesy of the available technology.
Pre-Game Talk: “Whenever I’ve heard of being a trump card for the team, I aim to perform even better. The expectation puts a bit of pressure but this motivates me to do better. I know batsmen fear facing me and it makes me happy,” Saeed Ajmal realises his role and impact before a big game.
"I've got three starts now and haven't been able to go on, so it's an area I need to continue to work on, and our top order needs to do so,” Michael Clarke identifies the importance of converting starts into big runs.
Last XI Fielded Australians: 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
Last XI Fielded Pakistanis: 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 Abdul Rehman, 9 Sohail Tanvir, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Junaid Khan
Possible Changes: Australia might go in with at least one forced change as Mitchell Starc pulled a side/chest strain at the game in Abu Dhabi. Alister McDermott is expected to fill in that spot and try to fit into the big shoes of his father, the former Australian fast bowler Craig McDermott. The openers have posed a bit of a problem at the top but with the Australian reluctance to chop and change too often, they might get another hit. If fitness permits Shahid Khan Afridi will be expected to slide back into his spot replacing Abdul Rehman as a specialist spinner. Lack of form could also see Sohail Tanvir lose his place to rookie Anwar Ali, giving all four Pakistani fast bowlers a go on tour.
Trivia Quiz: How many ODI captains has Pakistan had after the retirement of Imran Khan in 1992? (Answer will be published in the 1st Pakistan vs Australia T-20 match preview)
Answer to previous quiz: Moin Khan and Wasim Akram are the two Pakistani cricketers to have scored more ODI runs than Misbah-ul-Haq without scoring a century.
Final Words: Pakistan goes into this game wanting to change the tide against the former world number one team, marking the end of an era. On the other hand, the Aussies will look to stamp their authority to signal the world that their decline is temporary and they still hold the mantle of the team to beat. Both teams have more than the Cool & Cool cup to play for; the basic human desires of pride and glory.
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.