Can disarrayed Pakistan stop Australian juggernaut?

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CANBERRA: The rains in New South Wales and across the east coast of Australia this week brought so much relief to farmers in the drought-stricken region that there were videos of people dancing and celebrating in the streets. One set of foreigners who might gladly have partaken in such merriment was the visiting Pakistan cricket team in Sydney, staring defeat in the face when the heavens opened, forcing the abandonment of a game that Australia looked to be easing through.

While that means Aaron Finch’s men don’t go to Canberra with a 1-0 lead, they do enter the contest with significant momentum. Australia are on something of a T20I tear at the moment, having won their last five completed games. They swatted Sri Lanka aside 3-0 just last week, the team that less than a month ago did the same to Pakistan in Lahore. David Warner finds himself in irresistible form again, as does Finch, who looked imperious in the short time Australia got to bat before the weather intervened. The bowlers, too, Adam Zampa excepted, had solid outings carrying on from the Sri Lanka series.

Meanwhile, Pakistan suddenly find themselves in disarray in their most-favoured format of the last three years. In the first game, they scraped their way to a somewhat respectable total, down almost solely to new captain Babar Azam’s exquisite half-century. There is the caveat of the rain bringing a somewhat abrupt conclusion to the innings, but it’s hard to argue Pakistan were pacing themselves effectively either; regular loss of wickets combined with watertight discipline from Australia’s bowlers meant any total they put up in the allotted 20 would have ended up being somewhat below par.

The visitors must be careful not to let the second game also become a one-man batting effort. The sample size for the bowling isn’t enough to jump to drastic conclusions, but on the evidence of the two overs Mohammad Irfan bowled, there’s little to explain why the 37-year-old was brought out from the cold to join Pakistan on what has historically been their most challenging tour. On the whole, the visitors looked alarmingly off the pace in the first game, and this is their opportunity to demonstrate that it was something of an aberration.

For a game where Australia’s bowlers had a leash on Pakistan, the only surprise was the slightly off-colour performance of Adam Zampa. The legspinner was crucial to his side’s success in the series against Sri Lanka, and comes into this tour in good form. He didn’t get too much turn to assist him in Sydney, but Pakistan will have noted how quickly Zampa reverted to flatter, fuller deliveries when put under pressure by Mohammad Rizwan and Asif Ali. If they can get the legspinner to do that more often, he loses some of the wicket-taking threat Australia prize him for.

Every follower of Pakistan cricket will have dreaded the moment they needed to worry about Fakhar Zaman’s place in the T20I side, but it’s now becoming difficult to turn a blind eye to it. The opener’s torrid run in the format continued in Sydney with a second consecutive golden duck. It is now 11 innings since he last managed 25 in a T20I innings, a match-winning 91 in Harare against Australia in the final of a T20I tri-series. Right now, Fakhar looks worlds removed from the player who was capable of such sustained hitting, and for Pakistan to have a good start, that needs to change immediately.

Given how well the contest in Sydney turned out for them, it would be unsurprising to see Australia line up with the same team in Canberra.

PITCH AND CONDITIONS:

It is expected to be a fairly cool evening in Canberra, with temperatures perhaps dropping under ten degrees by the time the game finishes. The Manuka Oval has never hosted a T20I before, so how the pitch plays in those conditions is something of an unknown.