1st ODI: Illness-hit Australia meet new-look Pakistan in Sharjah

Rejuvenated from their success in India recently, Australia are battling player illness and the challenge of slow and low conditions as they prepare to meet Pakistan on Friday at Sharjah in the first ODI of the five-match series versus Pakistan, which also features games in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

After a barren run of success in ODIs, Aaron Finch’s team landed in India last month and stunned the hosts 2-0 in the T20Is and then came back from two games down to win three in a row to take the ODI series 3-2. Now they face Pakistan, a team with its own struggles in ODIs but with plenty of success in the UAE.

Pakistan return to international cricket for the first time since early February, when their tour of South Africa ended. They were beaten 2-3 in the ODI leg of that series, which tells a story.

The batting was reliant on Imam-ul-Haq, who out-scored all his batting team-mates, and the wickets didn’t in clusters from enough sources. Shaheen Shah Afridi’s six wickets were the most, while from five ODIs the spinner Shadab Khan managed just two. Since then, Pakistan’s cricketers have been engaged in the PSL which concluded on the weekend. Back as a unit, the focus will be on channeling the individual success from that tournament into these five games before the World Cup.

Pakistan will be led by Shoaib Malik for these five matches, with six players rested.

Match details

What: Pakistan vs Australia, 1st ODI

When: Friday, March 22

Where: Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium,

Time: 16:30 IST

Team news

Pakistan

With six players rested, among them Sarfraz Ahmed, there are spots to be filled. The recalled pair of Umar Akmal and Junaid Khan stands to gain from the absence of Babar Azam and Hasan Ali, while no Shaheen Shah Afridi, Fakhar Zaman or Shadab means that the uncapped Saad Ali, Mohammad Hasnain and Mohammad Abbas are in line for ODI debuts at some point during the series. There is also Yasir Shah, recalled keeping in mind the World Cup, to slot in.

Azam’s absence at No 3 could see Saad Ali fill that spot, with Shan Masood an opening option alongside Imam. But the presence of Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Haris Sohail and Akmal in a packed middle order could see one of them bat at one-down.

Likely XI: 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Shan Masood, 3 Saad Ali, 4 Mohammad Hafeez, 5 Haris Sohail/Umar Akmal, 6 Shoaib Malik (capt), 7 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Faheem Ashraf/Yasir Shah, 10 Mohammad Amir, 11 Junaid Khan

Australia

Glenn Maxwell is in doubt for Friday’s ODI after missing training on Wednesday with illness. This would give Shaun Marsh a chance to slot back into the team.

Nathan Lyon recovered from a stomach bug to train, and looks set to retain his place as the second spinner alongside Adam Zampa in conducive conditions. Nathan Coulter-Nile, who missed the last three ODIs in India to fly back to Perth for the birth of his second child, may have to sit out.

Likely XI: 1 Usman Khawaja, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Peter Handscomb, 4 Glenn Maxwell/Shaun Marsh, 5 Marcus Stoinis, 6 Ashton Turner, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Jhye Richardson, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Adam Zampa

Pitch and conditions

Last year, Sharjah played host to a seven-match limited-overs contest between Afghanistan and Zimbabwe in which spinners made up four of the five top wicket-takers. No ODIs have been played since at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. The weather is moderately pleasant for this time of year, owing to desert breeze which has temperatures in the mid-20s on Friday.

Stats

Malik needs three runs to surpass Javed Miandad on Pakistan’s all-time ODI batting list and move to fifth place.

The India series was the first time that Zampa played each match of a bilateral series since 2016, and his 11 wickets are his best returns for a series.

Quotes

“The stats from here all suggest that spin takes a bigger impact. I’ll expect them to spin.” – Finch