Australia’s series sweep of Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates completed a remarkable turnaround that began in India, but it hasn’t necessarily cleared up the picture ahead of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019.
With their 20-run win over Pakistan on Sunday, 31 March, Australia maintained their unbeaten record over their opponents in ODIs in the UAE, inflicting a 5-0 sweep. They are now on an eight-match unbeaten streak in the format, a sharp turnaround after a dismal start to the year, when they suffered a series defeat against India at home.
As for Pakistan, they gave some of their newer players a chance, and even tried a couple of their Test specialists. But it simply didn’t add up – close as they came – against a resurgent Australia.
With just about two months to go for CWC19, we look at the implications that this result has for both sides.
AARON FINCH IS HERE TO STAY:
At the start of the year, Australia’s limited-overs captain was far from a shoo-in for the World Cup. But after 451 runs in five matches – the second-highest series aggregate in Australia’s ODI history – Finch has left little doubt that he is the right candidate to lead them at the tournament.
Finch’s series ended with two centuries and two fifties, including a career-best 153* in the second ODI at Sharjah. Having proven himself on the slower tracks in the United Arab Emirates, Finch will now relish travelling to England, where the ball will come onto the bat at pace, feeding his natural stroke-making ability.
Like Finch, Usman Khawaja has hit peak form in the months leading up to the World Cup. Having earned a recall to the one-day side after a gap of two years in January, Khawaja is making the most of his second wind. After just 13 ODIs, Khawaja is closing in on 800 runs for the calendar year, and has two hundreds and six fifties. The problem? David Warner.
The former vice-captain has served his year-long ban and is making up for lost time. In three matches at the ongoing IPL 2019, Warner has blasted two half-centuries and a century and has made himself impossible to ignore. How do Australia fit him in? Warner has to bat at the top, which would necessitate one of Finch or Khawaja moving down the order – a tad unfair on either after the month they’ve had.
PAKISTAN’S BENCH STRENGTH IS WORRYING:
Pakistan rested their senior players for the series to accomplish two things – keep the regulars fresh for the World Cup and assess some of their untested talent. The second of those has raised serious concerns.
The bowling, especially, lacked incision and never seemed like it could hold Australia back. Barring Usman Shinwari, all of them averaged well over 40. In fact, outside of Shinwari and Junaid Khan, who averaged 44.50, the figures for the rest were 70 or above.
Their Test regulars didn’t give a favourable audition of their white-ball credentials either. Yasir Shah looked nothing like the wicket-taking machine that he is in whites, and while Mohammad Abbas began his ODI career brightly with 1/44, he fell apart to end with a sole wicket from 27 overs.
RIZWAN, SOHAIL LONG-TERM PROSPECTS:
Mohammad Rizwan made his ODI debut in 2015, while Haris Sohail began further back, in 2013. In all that time, they have played a combined 63 ODIs.
Both batsmen showed tremendous resolve and composure, making runs in tough situations. Sohail gave Pakistan their first hundred of the series, when he struck an unbeaten 101 to power them to 280. He then ended the series like he began, with another century – a career-best 130 in a demanding, but ultimately unsuccessful, chase of 328.
Rizwan lifted his team from 35/2 to give them 284 in the second ODI, where he made 115, and then took Pakistan within touching distance of a 278-run chase in the fourth game, when he made 104 and partnered fellow centurion Abid Ali in a 144-run third-wicket stand.
Unfortunately for them, both their efforts couldn’t translate to a win.
MAXWELL WORTH-WATCHING IN WORLD CUP:
Maxwell is a transformed player. For years, Maxwell has promised a lot but hasn’t always lived up to it, throwing away starts and showing extended periods of inconsistency between moments of brilliance.
But since the India series, where he made a T20I hundred in Bengaluru, Maxwell has shown that he has matured a lot, has the ability to read situations, and carefully choose his moments to attack. The element of calculation has added layers to an already destructive game and made him an exponentially bigger threat.
Maxwell finished his series with three half-centuries in four outings, and is the lynchpin of a middle order that is throwing up new heroes by the day.