Desperate to win their first One-Day International (ODI) series against Australia since 2002, Pakistan will be looking to take advantage of a golden opportunity when they take the field for the final match in Sharjah today.
Pakistan’s last series win, which came in Australia, was courtesy a fiery spell by former fast-bowler Shoaib Akhtar who demolished the hosts’ batting line-up with figures of five for 25. That Australia team included Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Michael Bevan, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.
Now, after more than a decade, the team has landed a chance to seal a rare triumph and, while they face a much weaker Australia team, the achievement will be no less for a relatively young Pakistan outfit as well.
However, this time around it will not be the pace, which the team would rely on like their last triumph, but the performance of spinners that is likely to decide the outcome.
Australia opened the rubber with a four-wicket win in Sharjah, while Pakistan bounced back in Abu Dhabi with an impressive seven-wicket victory — a match where the team, known to be poor chasers, overhauled a 249-run target with relative ease with Australia ruing the dew factor that proved crucial in the second-innings.
Team manager Naveed Akram Cheema said the win in the second ODI, where the batsmen seemed to have a sense of purpose, has motivated the players to repeat the 2002 heroics when Pakistan bounced back after being 1-0 down in the three-match series.
“The players are upbeat and motivated after the win in the second ODI,” Cheema told The Express Tribune from Sharjah on the eve of the decisive clash. “The Abu Dhabi win was a result of excellent team work and the players want to continue their impressive show. We learnt from our loss in Sharjah and hopefully, mistakes will not be repeated.”
Cheema added that the performance of spinners, who have claimed 12 of the 15 Australia wickets to fall in the two ODIs, will be the key again. “It’s our main strength and our planning for the final is based on it.”
Afridi uncertain for decisive fixture
Meanwhile, all-rounder Shahid Afridi who missed the second match due to a back injury, remained a doubtful starter.
“We’ll monitor his fitness during the training session in the evening,” said the manager, before refusing the impression that the winning combination will be retained.
“We’ll finalise the playing-eleven after assessing the pitch.”
Worries for Australia
On the other hand, Australia will be keen to avoid another ODI series loss after a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of England.
Doubt surrounds the fitness of Mitchell Starc, Australia’s hero in Sharjah, and the form of openers David Warner and Matthew Wade compounds Michael Clarke’s problems.
However, with all to play for, both teams will need to look past their history and problems, including the Sharjah heat and the dew factor, when they take the field for the final ODI.
“I know all the boys are watching a lot of video on how to read Ajmal. Kumar Sangakkara plays him a totally different way to the way the Australians play him so maybe we are looking at that aspect of playing him.”
“Making a comeback in a three-match series is never easy. Credit goes to Pakistan for making this interesting. I also feel that the team management should not change a winning combination but if Afridi is fit, he should be included.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2012.