Pakistan’s impressive win in the second one-dayer at the MCG had raised hopes of a tight contest. But, with two games remaining in the series, Australia are 2-1 up, and a victory at Sydney on Sunday, will give them the series with a match in hand. If one takes away the performance of the visitors in the second ODI, it has been the same old story for Pakistan; they have struggled, just like in the Tests. As a result, they now find themselves in a do-or-die situation in Sunday’s encounter. Victory would be a surprise, but if achieved, the honours would be even as the team’s head to Adelaide.
The good news for Pakistan is that their skipper Azhar Ali is back for the must-win tie. It would be even better if he can get some runs with the bat. Pakistan would undoubtedly need that as the batting has let them down in the series constantly. Sharjeel Khan got a fifty at Perth, but three middling scores from the team’s opener are not enough. He needs to do more. Under pressure, Babar Azam finally delivered in the last match, with a fine 84. He must continue the good work. Asad Shafiq is likely to make way for his skipper as Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal have looked good.
Bowling is the one area in which Pakistan have troubled Australia to an extent. With their batting not in the greatest of shape, it would be imperative for the visitors’ bowlers to put their hands up. Mohammad Amir was impressive at Perth with his economy, but Pakistan need him to produce a match-winning display. Junaid Khan also needs to display better consistency while Hasan Ali will have a point to prove as well. In the spin department, Imad Wasim had a rare off day in the previous match. He will be eager to make amends on Sunday.
Even as Australia will be pleased that they are 2-1 up in the series, and there is greater pressure on the opponents, they should be the first to admit that they haven’t been at their best. David Warner and Usman Khawaja go into the fourth encounter having registered a hat-trick of failures. Warner got a start at Perth, but it was far from enough. The lead-taking victory was centred around another assured hundred from skipper Steven Smith, and Peter Handscomb, who debuted with 82. Travis Head has got starts in every game, but he needs to start producing more than 20s and 30s.
With a series victory in the offing, Australia are all set to bring back Mitchell Starc. Billy Stanlake did not do much in the previous match, so it will be a straight swap. There are also high chances of Adam Zampa playing, with Sydney expected to offer some turn. Giving the limited chances, he would be desperate to make an impact in case selected. Josh Hazlewood yet again stood out with 3 for 32 at Perth. Even with Starc around, he is slowly moving towards being the team’s strike force. On form, Australia should be confident of pulling it off at Sydney on Sunday.
--By A Cricket Analyst