Look out, because here comes Australia. The team that always seems to be in contention around World Cup time, the team that has won five trophies and made seven finals from 11 attempts.
A month ago, the paragraph above would have seemed delusional. The Australian one-day team of 2019 was a mess, with a terrible streak of four wins in 26 matches dating back over the course of two years.
Now, after having come back to win a series 2-3 in India, the Australians have surged on to the UAE to whitewash Pakistan 0-5.
Admittedly this was far from Pakistan’s top team. Most of the mainstay players were rested, with only Imam-ul-Haq, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim and Faheem Ashraf remaining for the first game against Australia compared to the first match of the previous series against South Africa.
Swing bowler Mohammad Amir was present to try to recapture his lost ODI form, while leg-spinner Yasir Shah and seamer Mohammad Abbas were given a reprieve from having their cards marked as Test-only players.
Of the batsmen given an audition, Haris Sohail continued his love affair with Australian bowlers by making two hundreds, a feat matched by reserve wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan. Abid Ali also delivered a ton from the two innings he was given to open the innings, while his partner Shan Masood was less convincing but managed a 40 and a 50.
But for all the runs, Pakistan couldn’t top the consistency of scoring from Australia. Twice the Australians comfortably ran down decent scores. The next three times they put up solid totals to defend. Only once did Pakistan come close to running one down, when Rizwan and Sohail made hundreds chasing 271, but a late collapse brought the innings undone.
Nor did Pakistan help by producing some consistently terrible fielding that harked back to the worst of their past. Where the Champions Trophy team of 2017 was organised in the field, this Pakistan team dropped catch after catch and misfielded boundary after boundary. It seemed that any ball hit with menace would tear through an attempted stop as though the fielder was made of paper. Players who misfielded would remain on the ground clutching some part of their body as if in pain, before deciding to play on. It was a parlous display.
In this environment, Australia’s batsmen took full advantage, starting at the top. Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja put on opening partnerships of 63, 209, 0, 56 and 134, meaning they’ll be very hard to separate for the World Cup. Finch ended a bad patch by making two centuries and a 90, while Khawaja narrowly missed out on tons of his own with scores of 98, 88 and 62.
Shaun Marsh was able to chip in around the edges for scores of 62 and 91 not out, while Glenn Maxwell was the main beneficiary of the tour behind the openers. Floating around the order to come in at number six, number four, number three, or not at all, Maxwell made the most of his opportunities in typically memorable style.
Twice he arrived late and iced the innings, sashaying his way to 71 off 55 balls, then 70 from 33. But in the intervening fourth match, he came in early at a dicey 101 for 4 and had to rebuild the innings, batting almost to the close before being run out in the last over for 98. Even with a century in his sights, Maxwell was happy to put the team first and take risks pushing for extra runs.
All of the above meant some long dull days for Pakistan’s bowlers. Young quick Usman Shinwari produced a couple of memorable spells, and cashed in with four wickets in the final match. The teenage PSL sensation Mohammad Hasnain made his debut and impressed with some thunderbolts that touched 150 kilometers per hour. But neither could swing the result of a match.
Imad Wasim was his usual nagging and economical self with his straight breaks, and also smashed 141 valuable lower-order runs at a strike rate surging to 122. Yasir was steady and unlucky at times but couldn’t weave the same spell that we’ve so often seen in Tests.
For Australia, Adam Zampa and Nathan Coulter-Nile got the opportunity to take the lead at times, with Mitchell Starc absent and Pat Cummins playing only the third and deciding match before being sent home once Australia had won the series. Nathan Lyon was again a steady spin option through the middle overs, while Maxwell’s bowling was prominent as he sent down 35 overs in the series.
The only bad news story was a shoulder injury for Jhye Richardson, who landed heavily on his shoulder while fielding in the second ODI, but there’s hope that he’ll recover in time for the tournament.
For Australia, the only questions for their World Cup defense revolve around who to leave out. A squad where everyone is performing is a far cry from the situation only a few weeks ago.
For Pakistan, there’s the thorny dilemma of Rizwan scoring so freely while first-choice wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed was rested, especially given the first-choice players seemed very settled in South Africa recently when Sarfraz was missing and Malik was taking the reins.
With the ICC deadline for squads looming on April 23, the debates will get more heated than ever. For both teams, this latest series provides plenty to chew on.