Abu Dhabi: Pakistan have their backs to the wall and are staring at an ODI series defeat against Australia, having lost the first two games of the five-match contest.
With all frontline bowlers struggling to get a breakthrough, interim skipper Shoaib Malik has his task cut out and will be under tremendous pressure when his side goes into the do-or-die match against Australia at the Zayed Cricket Stadium on Wednesday. The action starts at 3pm.
The morale-boosting series victory against India, coming back from a 2-0 deficit, has acted as a catalyst for the Australians. And all the negative talk of them no longer being a formidable side in the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner has been erased.
Their top-order batsmen — Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch — have grabbed their opportunities with both hands and have peaked at the right time. Finch scored his career-best unbeaten 153 in the second ODI, following on nicely from the first game that saw him score 116. Khawaja, who has been a revelation since returning to the squad after a gap of two years, was also just 12 short of what would have been his third century of the month.
With the double-century opening stand in the second ODI, the duo has made a strong claim for places in the World Cup squad in May this year.
The Australian selectors will definitely have a huge dilemma on how to draft Warner and Smith back in the squad on their return.
The biggest worry for Pakistan is the ease with which Australia reached their targets of 281 and 285 in the first two games.
The Pakistan bowlers looked listless and just four wickets in two outings, which also includes a run out, speaks volumes of their misery on these lifeless wickets.
With Faheem Ashraf rested for the remaining three ODIs, Pakistan have opted for two changes for the third ODI. Junaid Khan will be in for Ashraf and Usman Shinwari will be coming in place of Mohammad Abbas.
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur, on the eve of the crucial tie, said there was no need to panic as his prime aim is to get a core team ready for the World Cup.
“We always get castigated for not trying new players and now we are getting castigated for giving opportunity to new players,” he said. “You can never seem to win. I think people need to understand that we are a very passionate team.
“Every time we go on to the field we go out there to win for Pakistan. We have a plan in place and that is to have our core group of 15 which is going to win the World Cup for Pakistan ready and firing to go on April 23 when we go to England.”
Arthur added there are few frustrations off late.
“I think what we got to realise is that we have players who are of the international level, the chaps that are here are very, very good cricketers and will become very good cricketers,” he said. “We are trying to increase the depth of Pakistan cricket.”
Australia, on the verge of another series win, is expected to make at least one change — Pat Cummins could make his return in place of Jhye Richardson who flew home with a shoulder injury. The Aussies also have the option of going in with either Kane Richardson or left-armer Jason Behrendorff, who are yet to play in the ongoing series.
“It is good to start the series with two wins and we are confident going into the third,” said all-rounder Marcus Stoinis. “Yes, it is a good position to be in. The group is coming together well towards the World Cup and definitely the mood is good when you are winning. We had a lot of refection to do over the last 12 months, people gaining experience and it is good to get a bit of reward for the hard work.”