Australia v Pakistan First ODI
Friday January 13, 2:20pm AEDT
After a 3-0 clean-sweep victory in the test matches, Australia turn their attention to ODI cricket where they take on Pakistan in the first of a five-match series, beginning at the Gabba on Friday.
Earlier in the summer Australia regained the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy with a 3-0 series win over New Zealand. The prolific pair of David Warner and Steve Smith were particularly dominant in the top-order, averaging 99.66 and 78.66 in that series respectively. Youngster Travis Head also showed plenty of encouraging signs, with two pivotal half-centuries enough to keep Glenn Maxwell out of the side.
With the ball, Australian fans were treated to Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins all playing together for the first time and the pace trio did not disappoint, taking a combined 20 wickets at an average of 18.25 and economy rate of 4.73.
The Aussies also looked increasingly sharp in the field with captain Smith fuelling the highlights reel with two stunning grabs. Despite their convincing margin of victory over the Black Caps, the reigning World Champions have made some changes to their squad with experienced batsmen Aaron Finch and George Bailey omitted after both endured a poor run of form.
Usman Khawaja is set to be a given a chance alongside Warner at the top of the order, while BBL mogul Chris Lynn will be given an opportunity to flourish in the 50-over format. Towering quick Billy Stanlake has also been included and looks set to debut at the Gabba with news that Hazlewood will be rested for this match.
After fading badly in the tests, Pakistan should appreciate the opportunity to freshen up their squad and they also come into this contest off the back of a 3-0 ODI series win which was achieved against the West Indies in their adopted home of the UAE in October. Promising batsman Babar Azam was at the forefront of that performance, scoring a century in all three matches, and after struggling badly in the test series he should welcome the change to white-ball cricket.
Left-arm orthodox Mohammad Nawaz topped the wicket-takers tally against the Windies with seven at an average of 17.28, however fellow spinner Imad Wasim struggled for penetration, taking just three wickets at an average of 42.33. Nevertheless Imad has been retained with leg-spinner Yasir Shah left out after a getting through a lot of work in the test series. After being originally included in place of Sohail Khan, giant left-arm quick Mohammad Irfan has left the squad due to personal reasons and been replaced by Junaid Khan.
Furthermore Pakistan were forced into another late change with ‘keeper Sarfraz Ahmed flying home, opening up the possibility of a recall for Kamran Akmal, although in the interim veteran all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez has been added to the squad at the request of captain Azhar Ali. On Tuesday the visitors completed a straightforward win over a Cricket Australia XI in a warm-up game with Babar (98 off 113 balls) again amongst the runs, while right-arm quick Hasan Ali claimed 3/18.
Distinctly high-scoring in the BBL, conditions at the Gabba have not generally been quite as favourable to batsmen in the ODI format with an average first innings score of 8/255 over the past five matches, although in two of those a target in excess of 300 was chased down. In fact the side batting second has won five of the past six ODIs in Brisbane, while the hosts have won eight out of their past nine ODIs at the ground.
- Australia have won 21 of their past 22 completed ODIs at home.
- Australia have won eight of their last nine ODIs at the Gabba.
- Australia have won their past five ODIs against Pakistan.
- Pakistan have won their past four ODIs.
- However Pakistan have won only one of their past five ODIs away from home.
- Pakistan have hit more sixes than their opponents in only two of their past eight ODIs.
Punters are expecting Pakistan’s struggles on Australian soil to continue with the hosts installed as firm favourites to take an early series lead.
There are few sides as dominant in world cricket as the Australian ODI side at home, winning a phenomenal 21 of their past 22 and even then the sole loss came after posting a first innings total of 330. There are not really any discernible weaknesses across their strongest XI and they have the advantage of numerous match-winners at their disposal such as Warner, Smith and Starc. Perhaps the only area of consternation is some occasional softness around the middle-order, where they can tend to lose wickets in clumps and this has resulted in Bailey surrendering his place in the side.
Although in irresistible form in T20 cricket, Chris Lynn does not shape as the sort of batsman to arrest this trend, instead adding even more power to an already-imposing line-up. The resting of Hazlewood also opens up another avenue for Pakistan to exploit, as his frugal offerings are crucial in allowing the likes of Starc and Cummins to bowl a more attacking line, so while I am incredibly tempted to side with the Australians, there are just enough concerns for me to hold fire and leave the short odds alone.
That’s not to say that I’ll be backing the visitors. A change of formats may be just what Pakistan need but that has been countered somewhat by late changes to their squad which has thrown them into a familiar sense of disarray. While their collection of slower bowlers may hold up the Australians to a degree through the middle of their innings, their attack as a whole lacks the requisite penetration to make significant inroads on Australian pitches and I have grave fears for their quick bowlers, particularly during the powerplay.
Almost 40% of their runs in ODIs last year came from two batsmen – one of which clearly struggled during the tests series (Babar), while the other has had to leave the squad (Sarfraz) – so there are big question marks over whether they can rack up the sort of totals required to challenge this Australian side.
However I believe there is another area where the Aussies hold a more distinguishable advantage. In their past eight ODIs, Australia’s opponents have hit more sixes than them on just three occasions, which is all the more remarkable when you consider that that period includes a 5-0 away drubbing to South Africa. During that time Australia have only failed to hit at least four sixes once, while they conceded four or less in half of those games. Conversely Pakistan have had issues clearing the ropes, hitting more sixes than their opponents in only two of their past eight ODIs. Across those eight matches they have averaged just four sixes, while conceding an average of nearly six maximums.
Australia’s record in Brisbane is even more encouraging, only being outhit by their opponents in ODIs at the Gabba in two of their past nine. Additionally, when you consider that the favourites have added a player who has struck 26 sixes in his last five innings (albeit in a different format), while Pakistan have lost one of their most dangerous strikers in Sarfraz, it all points towards the home side sending the ball into the crowd more frequently than the visitors so that’s exactly the route we’ll take in this one.
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