Only Zimbabwe and Netherlands have won fewer ODIs in this World Cup cycle than Babar Azam’s men
If there were optimists who believed the ODI series would gradually pick up interest once the ball was rolling, what the first game threw up will have done plenty to extinguish that kind of positive thinking. In a textbook example of why the 50-over format continues to struggle for relevance despite the advent of the World Cup Super League and an ODI World Cup on the horizon, Lahore witnessed a complete mismatch. Australia capitalised on a lacklustre start from the hosts and never quite let that advantage go, while Pakistan’s chase gave off the impression they were still playing cricket stuck in 1998, the year when, as everyone has surely cottoned on by now, Australia were last here.
That it looks like the second game is on is something of a relief in itself, after further Covid-19 cases in the Australian camp put them on the cusp of falling below the minimum threshold of players (13) required to continue a tour. Ashton Agar’s positive result before the first ODI raised fears of further absences, but all members of the travelling party tested negative on Wednesday, and, for now, it looks like the tour will go ahead.
Unlike the Test series, this one-day leg isn’t quite making front page headlines, not least due to political drama in Islamabad that has captivated the nation for some time now. It was what necessitated the moving of the white-ball series from Rawalpindi to Lahore, and from the front pages to back pages. If that’s where cricket stays over the long run, it should be something of a win for Pakistan, for it would mean the sport is treated with the normalcy most other nations take for granted.
As for the cricket itself, Pakistan will have to be careful not to get sucked into a scrap for qualification to the 2023 World Cup. Only Zimbabwe and Netherlands have won fewer games in this cycle, and should they fail to get across the line this series, their road to India may end up going through Zimbabwe (where the qualifiers will be held).
For Australia, it was simply the perfect ODI, and an extension of their stranglehold over the hosts this tour. After making all the running in the Test series, there was no sign of a let up in the first ODI, despite a squad that’s down to skin and bone. Indeed, it never really felt like Australia got out of third gear to pull off the win, and against feeble Pakistani resistance, they never quite needed to.
Pakistan LLLLW (last five completed matches, most recent first) Australia WWLWL
In the spotlight
Pakistan will struggle to draw much encouragement from the first game, but in an individual capacity, Zahid Mahmood might feel he had a day he could build on. Perhaps unlucky to miss out on all three Tests as Pakistan’s frontline spin options failed to impress, there were glimmers of true quality in Mahmood’s spell on Tuesday. The legspinner conceded 30 off the first three while Australia’s opening partnership was in full flow, but once he removed Aaron Finch in the third over, he was, by some distance, the pick of the Pakistan bowlers. He applied something of a squeeze through the middle overs and managed enough drift and turn to keep Australia on their toes. On another day, perhaps Thursday, he might be able to play the role Adam Zampa has almost patented for Australia.
It’s hard to look too far past Cameron Green these days. After a superb Test series where he was often the bête noire in Pakistan, particularly with the ball, his form with the bat has come to the fore in Lahore. It has translated very neatly to the white-ball game, his unbeaten 30-ball 40 picking up the impetus once more for Australia after Pakistan had fought back through the second half of the innings. The 22-year old allrounder’s growing importance to this side was reflected in Finch handing him the new ball.In an Australian side that has been hampered by Covid and injury, it’s difficult to place a value on his versatility.
Shaheen Shah Afridi should return if he can shake off the knee injury he sustained while batting in the nets before the first ODI. In that case, Hasan Ali is the likeliest to make way.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Fakhar Zaman 2 Imam-ul-Haq 3 Babar Azam (capt) 4 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 5 Saud Shakeel 6 Iftikhar Ahmed 7 Khushdil Shah 8 Mohammad Wasim Jnr 9 Haris Rauf 10 Zahid Mahmood 11 Shaheen Afridi
For Australia, it’s a case of play who’s available at the moment, with the side just about able to field an XI.
Australia: 1 Aaron Finch (capt) 2 Travis Head 3 Ben McDermott 4 Marnus Labuschagne 5 Marcus Stoinis, 6 Cameron Green 7 Alex Carey (wk) 8 Sean Abbott 9 Nathan Ellis 10 Adam Zampa 11 Mitchell Swepson
Pitch and conditions
The weather remains hot and dry, and the wicket is expected to be conducive to big runs once more.
Stats and trivia
Australia have won the last ten ODIs against Pakistan, and 16 of the last 17.
The last time Pakistan beat Australia at Gaddafi Stadium came all the way back in 1988. Craig McDermott, whose son Ben is now part of the Australian squad, played that day, as did current PCB chairman Ramiz Raja. The game was technically a tie, with both sides scoring 229, but Pakistan were awarded the win because they lost one fewer wicket.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000