Sunday January 22, 2:20pm AEDT
Australia will be looking to wrap up the series, while Pakistan will be hoping to force a decider when the two sides clash in the fourth ODI at the SCG on Sunday.
The Aussies secured a 2-1 series lead with a comfortable seven-wicket victory over the visitors at the WACA on Thursday. After winning his third successive toss, captain Steve Smith elected to send Pakistan into bat, although he must have doubted his instincts when the Pakistanis raced to 1/85 in the 16th over.
The visitors then consolidated effectively through the middle overs, but failed to fire in the closing stanza, taking only 50 from the last ten overs despite going into that period with six wickets in hand. Both Pat Cummins (1/42 off ten overs) and James Faulkner (0/62 off ten overs) bowled effectively at the death, however it was Josh Hazlewood who kept Australia on the front foot, capturing 3/32 from his ten overs in another brilliant display.
A typically rapid start from David Warner (35 off 38 balls) got Australia’s reply underway, however when Warner and fellow opener Usman Khawaja (9 off 20 balls) were dismissed within five balls of each other, the hosts’ chances suddenly looked on edge at 2/45 in the tenth over. Things could have got even worse in the very next over when debutant Peter Handscomb was caught at slip, only to earn a reprieve for a no ball.
From there, Australia did not look back with an exceptional stand of 183 off 177 balls between Handscomb (82 off 84 balls) and skipper Smith who finished with a magnificent unbeaten 108 to see his side home with five overs to spare. Hometown paceman Mitchell Starc could return at the SCG, while leg-spinner Adam Zampa is expected to earn his first opportunity of the series.
Pakistan once again found themselves right in the game throughout different periods of the match, but much like the opening encounter they eventually slumped to a comprehensive loss. Batting first, opener Sharjeel Khan showed what he was capable of with a boundary-laden innings of 50 off just 47 balls, taking 20 off one over from rookie quick Billy Stanlake.
After a couple of starts, young batsman Babar Azam finally played the sort of innings that he has been threatening all series, with his 84 off 100 balls setting an ideal platform from which Pakistan failed to launch.
For that they have their faltering middle-order to blame, with only Shoaib Malik (39 off 41 balls) displaying the sort of impetus that was required to push the visitors to a match-winning total. Nevertheless they again managed to drag themselves back in the contest thanks to a superb opening spell from Mohammad Amir who finished with 1/36 off ten overs.
However, unlike the opening two fixtures, their spinners could not curb the Australians’ scoring on the WACA’s quicker surface, with the previously frugal Imad Wasim being taken for 59 off his eight wicketless overs, while part-timers Shoaib and Mohammad Hafeez combined for the unflattering figures of 0/48 off eight overs.
After failing to bring across his test form to the ODI setting, talented batsman Asad Shafiq is expected to be omitted with regular captain Azhar Ali hopeful of a comeback from a hamstring injury. A slower surface in Sydney could also see a recall for left-arm orthodox Mohammad Nawaz.
Sydney Cricket Ground
The SCG has been an exceptionally high-scoring ground in ODI cricket of late with four of the past six first innings totals exceeding 320. Despite that, the side batting second has won seven of the past 11 ODIs, including three of the past five. Steve Smith has a phenomenal record at his home ground in this format, averaging 59.11 with two centuries his past three innings here.
- Australia have won their last seven ODI series’ at home.
- However Australia are without three batsmen who contributed over 30% of their runs in ODIs in 2016.
- Steve Smith has top-scored for Australia in three of his past six ODIs.
- Pakistan have won three of their past five ODI series’ away from home.
- However Pakistan have lost six of their past eight ODIs away from home.
- Pakistan have lost their last eight matches across all formats at the SCG.
Australia are again overwhelming favourites to secure another series win in Sydney, with the visitors struggling for faith from the market.
While the eventual margin of victory in Perth was commanding, the manor of Australia’s win was anything but as the visitors gained a foothold in both innings, only to fall away in disappointing fashion. The outstanding partnership between Smith and Handscomb may have taken all the plaudits, but Australia will be especially thankful for the contribution of Hazlewood at the WACA who was the only bowler to both keep the runs down and regularly threaten to take wickets.
Furthermore while Travis Head had done an admirable job, they have sorely missed a frontline spinner, although I would expect that to be corrected by the inclusion of Zampa. However it is the Australians’ batting that presents the most concern with Khawaja looking out of touch at the top of the order, while Handscomb required more than a touch of good fortune to get going in a format to which he may not be best suited.
The absence of the much-maligned Mitchell Marsh also leaves a sizeable hole in the middle-order, having averaged in excess of 40 last year, while at the same time giving captain Smith one less option with the ball.
Pakistan have exceeded expectations but failed to win the big moments in games one and three of the series, turning possible wins into convincing losses. The fact that there have been eight occurrences of batsmen dismissed between 20 and 40 across three games sums up their inability to put together a complete performance with the bat, and the onus will be on their middle-order to step up and drive the visitors towards a more significant total in Sydney.
Their bowling has shown more promise, but much like their batting they have struggled to put it all together in the one match, with at least one member of their attack letting the side down. A slower pitch at the SCG should at least provide more ammunition for their spinners and if Amir and co can test the top-order with the new ball then they should find themselves well in the contest again.
It is pertinent to note that Pakistan have traded decently lower than starting price in all three games so far, winning one, and with conditions expected to suit them far more than they did in Perth I see no reason why this trend cannot continue.
They may have breezed home with plenty of wickets and balls to spare at the WACA, but this Australian batting line-up has shown it is susceptible to quality bowling, especially from the slower bowlers, while Pakistan’s batting seems on the cusp of finally delivering the sort of score required to be competitive in antipodean conditions. Therefore I am going to begin by opposing the hosts but given their impenetrable record at home, the return of Starc and Pakistan’s inability to get over the line in recent times, I will look to trade out and lock in some profit.
Additionally the recent form of Steve Smith has been nothing short of bewildering. In his last nine ODI innings, Smith has scored 533 runs at an average of 66.63, including three hundreds and two fifties. Overall he has top-scored for Australia in three of his past six ODIs, including two of his past three at the SCG. As we know he boasts a stellar overall record at his home ground, averaging a touch below 60 with two fifties and two hundreds from his past four innings’ there. With the rest of the Aussies’ middle-order looking a bit shaky I’m prepared to also invest in Smith top-scoring for Australia once again here.
LAY-TO-BACK – Australia at 1.36 or better for 2 units (trade out at 1.75 or bigger).