Pakistan will field a massively-weakened ODI team missing five star players in the five-match series starting today, giving Australia a golden chance to build further momentum for the World Cup.
For this series Pakistan will be missing captain Sarfraz Ahmed, their best pace bowler Hasan Ali, their top all-rounder Shadab Khan, and two of their three standout batsmen in Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman.
Pakistan also will be without a sixth valuable player in 19-year-old pace prodigy Shaheen Afridi, who has averaged 19 with the ball in his 19 limited overs international matches.
As a result, Pakistan will field an inexperienced and vulnerable squad featuring four uncapped players, giving Australia their easiest ODI series in more than two years.
That’s not to suggest Pakistan will be pushovers, rather a reflection of how insanely difficult Australia’s ODI fixture has been, with 24 of their past 27 matches being against the top two ranked teams – England and India.
They may be ranked sixth in the world in ODIs but Pakistan are an unpredictable and dangerous team. This was underlined in the 2017 Champions Trophy, which Pakistan entered as rank outsiders only to thrash hosts England in the semi-finals and then destroy India in the final.
Since that rousing performance Pakistan’s form has been patchy. They have won just two of their five ODI series in that time, and were thrashed 5-0 in New Zealand.
At home in the UAE, however, their record is more formidable having won 12 of their past 20 matches.
It is Australia, though, who long have been Pakistan’s biggest nemesis in ODI cricket. Some 17 years have passed since Pakistan last defeated Australia in an ODI series. Since then they have a horrendous 6-28 win-loss record against Australia in this format.
This history counts for little, however, as these teams have played just one ODI series in the past four-and-a-half years. That last series was in January 2017, with Australia hammering Pakistan 4-1.
Pakistan’s shaky batting line-up let them down in that series. Nowadays they boast an incredibly-strong top order due to the presence of Azam, Zaman and ul-Haq, who combined have made nearly 5,000 runs at 54 in their ODI careers, with an incredible 16 tons from just 111 matches.
Australian fans will be familiar with Azam, who was outstanding during the 2017 ODI series in Australia, making 282 runs at 56. He is a huge out for Pakistan, as is Fakhar the dangerous hitter who normally gives their top order a fear factor.
In the absence of that gun pair, huge responsibility now rests on the blade of ul-Haq.
The 23-year-old has made an extraordinary start to his ODI career with five tons from just 21 matches.
Rather than relying on big shots, the left-handed opener focuses on racking up 1s and 2s – he has scored only 33 per cent of his ODI runs in boundaries, one of the lowest rates of any current batsman.
He will need to have a good series against Australia because, beyond their star top three of ul-Haq, Azam and Fakhar, Pakistan have had no consistent contributors with the bat over the past 18 months.
After bowling to a commanding and vastly experienced Indian batting line-up in their past eight ODIs, Australia’s bowlers will face a comparatively simpler task against Pakistan.
So, too, will the visiting batsmen. Pakistan’s pace unit is greatly weakened by the absence of tearaway left armer Afridi, and attack leader Hasan Ali, who has a fantastic ODI record of 77 wickets at 24.
Australia’s batsmen will also be relieved not to have to tackle hugely-skilled young leg spinner Shadab Khan, who has averaged 18 with the ball against them from six T20Is.
Australia may be coming off a remarkable series win in India, but it is only weeks ago that they were considered a team in crisis. Which makes this series against a second string Pakistan line-up very difficult to read.