After five weeks of a historic tour where the cricket has been tough and competitive for the most part, we have a decider to look forward to.
It’s a tour that has perhaps attracted more attention off-field than on it, though the cricket has been of a high standard, and Pakistan can finally look forward to embracing the new normal of hosting home cricket in the country. Australia, recalcitrant tourists to this part of the world, have come to Pakistan for a full, all-format tour despite all the security and Covid-19 challenges, and seen the whole thing go off, for now, without a hitch. The focus, by now, is finally where it belongs, on the cricket, as Pakistan and Australia look to entertain for one last time in the ODI series.
The series is on the line. Pakistan’s unlikely, record-shattering win in the second game to level the series has kept the series alive, something few expected when Australia set the hosts 349 to win in the second game.
But while there is excitement over the destination of the trophy, suggesting it has bigger implications than that feels a bit of a stretch. Babar Azam said after the win on Thursday that the result would give Pakistan huge confidence for the final game, and if that were followed by triumph in the decider, that effect will only be amplified. But, tacked on at the end of a hugely anticipated Test series, these white-ball games have the ambience of warm-downs before the visitors head back home.
Pakistan’s unfavourable history against Australia means any win over any level of Australian opposition is welcome. More pragmatically, a series win would push Pakistan up the ODI World Cup Super League table, where they had been languishing below the qualification mark. They are still not out of the woods in that department, but a win on Saturday would take them further away from danger.
With Australia operating with a short-handed squad, one that required additional reinforcements to be flown in, they aren’t expected to view these contests as anything more than depth-testing. It will hugely encourage them to have put up the sort of fight that has been on display over this series, and even in the event of a series defeat, Australia may well feel they are well-placed for next year’s World Cup. The top order – especially Travis Head – has looked explosive despite David Warner’s absence and Aaron Finch’s poor run of scores, and while the bowling attack has lacked the pace and smarts of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc or the metronomic accuracy of Josh Hazlewood, their less-seasoned replacements have not looked too out of their depth.
Pakistan WLLLL (last five completed matches, most recent first) Australia LWWLW
In the spotlight
Mohammad Rizwan‘s rise has been inexorable up to now, but his ODI form has largely escaped scrutiny. Which, perhaps, is understandable, given most of Pakistan’s cricket since he replaced Sarfaraz Ahmed in all formats has come in the shortest and longest formats, each of which has seen the wicketkeeper-batter take centre stage. But, pushed out of his comfort zone into the middle-order in ODI cricket has not agreed with him up to now, with Rizwan managing just 192 runs in 11 innings at a strike rate of 79.01, averaging 17.45. Moving him to the top order will suit his game more, but with Imam-ul-Haq in form and Fakhar Zaman and Babar immovable, slots at the top are limited. Rizwan has a challenge on his hands, one that, with the ODI World Cup a year away, he needs to rise to fast.
It’s been a mixed series for Nathan Ellis and Sean Abbott, with one brilliant performance followed by an indifferent one. This third ODI might be one of the few true chances they get before the World Cup next year to impress against world-class opposition in the subcontinent. If it’s an opportunity either of them grab, they might yet have time to force their way into Australia’s longer-term plans.
Pakistan’s bowling has come in for tap this series, but following an uplifting win on Thursday, they are expected to go in unchanged.
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, 9 Haris Rauf, 10 Zahid Mahmood, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Matt Renshaw’s isolation period will be over by the time of the third ODI, but at the moment, there appears little need to tinker with the Australia top order. With availability elsewhere limited, Australia going in unchanged would not surprise.
Australia (possible): 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
It’s expected to be another blazingly hot afternoon in Lahore, which should give way to cooler weather as the evening draws in. Expect another batting-friendly surface.
Stats and trivia
Babar scored his 15th ODI hundred in the previous game. He got to that feat in 83 innings, the fastest in the format. Hashim Amla (86) drops down to second place in that list.
Australia last lost a bilateral multi-game ODI series against Pakistan in 2002, having won six on the bounce since then. On that occasion, Pakistan lost the first game to come back and win the following two.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000