Pakistan stand-in skipper Shoaib Malik hopes his bowlers will get early wickets to help them level the five-ODI series against Australia in the second match in Sharjah on Sunday.
Pakistan went down by eight wickets in the first ODI on Friday and now aim to level the series with improved performance.
Pakistan posted 280 for five, looking comfortable for a 330 plus score at one stage, at the back of a maiden century by Haris Sohail, while recalled batsman Umar Akmal scored 48 and Shan Masood 40 on his ODI debut.
But, the pace trio of Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Abbas and Faheem Ashraf failed to give Pakistan early wickets. Australia skipper Aaron Finch returned to form with a brilliant 116, his 12th ODI ton, while Shaun Marsh scored 91* as Australia chased down the target in 49 overs with ease.
Amir’s lack of wickets is especially worrisome for Pakistan. The left-armer has only five wickets to his name in the last 14 ODIs. That can bring in 18-year-old rookie Mohammad Hasnain or one from experienced Junaid Khan or Usman Shinwari into the contention for the second ODI.
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Malik believed 280 was a defendable total, more so at a slow-paced Sharjah pitch where batting second was challenging.
“Yes, that was a defendable total,” said Malik of Pakistan’s total. “What different we must do is to take wickets at the top. There is not much difference.
“We scored 280 runs, which was a good total, and it would not have been chased at Sharjah, maybe once or twice it was chased before, so we must keep that in mind.”
Pakistan also included leg-spinner Yasir Shah who went for 56 runs in his 10 overs, without taking a wicket.
Pakistan have not won a bilateral series against Australia since 2002 – a fact that may also bolster them to level the series and then go on to win it.
Australia are also likely to go in with the same XI, although they might be tempted to bring in Pat Cummins who took 14 wickets in five ODI in the recently concluded series against India.
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Finch’s hundred was his first since July last year, while Marsh, dropped from the mid-series in India, has also returned to form.
Finch said it was nice to overhaul the chase for the loss of just two wickets.
“It was just nice to do it two down and do it a bit more clinically than what we have over the last few months when we’ve been in that situation. They’re sometimes the best innings you'll play as a batsman, when things aren’t going your way.
“It wasn’t an innings where he [Marsh] hit the middle of the bat and it was free flowing from the start. For him to grind out the first 30 or 40 runs to find his rhythm was really important.”
The Aussie skipper returned to form in the first ODI against Pakistan with his 12th ODI ton - his first since June 2018 against England. Finch had struggled throughout the home season and most of the recently concluded tour of India - where he got only one fifty. With this series being the last of the ODI engagements for Australia before the World Cup, the series is critical for the Aussie skipper given Usman Khawaja's recent form and the possible return of David Warner.
While Haris Sohail got his maiden ODI ton in the first game, Imam-ul-Haq's at the top will be critical for Pakistan. With Shan Masood and Sohail being one-dimensional players and in the absence of Fakhar Zaman, Imam is expected to step-up the gear. His recent showing in the Pakistan Super League also impressed quite a few where he scored four fifties at a strike rate of 130.5.
Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood, Haris Sohail, Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik (c), Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Imad Wasim, Faheem Ashraf, Junaid Khan/Usman Shinwari, Mohammad Abbas, Yasir Shah
Aaron Finch (c), Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins/Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jhye Richardson, Nathan Lyon, Adam Zampa