Australia’s top six was buffeted by short balls against the West Indies, an aggressive tactic which almost earned the men from the Caribbean a victory.
Key strategy: Will Australia’s quick try to bounce out Pakistan?
Part of the motivation for this bouncer barrage against the Aussie surely came from the overwhelming success of this same strategy a few days earlier against Pakistan. In the second match of this World Cup the Windies quicks employed short pitch bowling to intimidate the strong Pakistan batting line-up. The Pakistanis seemed to be caught off guard and could not deal with this aggressive approach, collapsing to be all out for 105. They lost four wickets to bouncers in that match and several others appeared to be indirect results of these short balls.
In Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, Australia have two tall and very swift bowlers who both possess vicious short balls. Neither bowler has made heavy use of the bouncer with the new ball yet in this World Cup. Pakistan opener Fakhar Zaman loves to take on short balls, chancing his arm in the progress, while his opening partner Imam ul-Haq can be roughed up by such bowling. Expect to see Starc and Cummins direct a few deliveries at their helmets in the opening overs.
Key Pakistani: Babar Azam
This Pakistan prodigy may just be the most consistent ODI batsman in the world after Virat Kohli. A classical, elegant player he may also just be the most stylish ODI batsman in the world after the Indian captain. At just 24 years old Azam has already built a formidable ODI record, with 2,824 runs at 51. His fantastic dependability is underlined by the fact that, on average, he passes 50 once per 2.9 matches. That rate compares very favourably against Australia stars Steve Smith (once every 3.3 matches) and David Warner (3.2
Similar to Kohli, Azam has no obvious weakness as a 50-over batsman. He is calm and assured against elite pace bowling, and is one of the world’s best players of spin. He is Pakistan’s banker, their rock, the player they build ODI innings around. His presence at one end, piercing gaps and minimising risk, allows the likes of Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfraz Ahmed, Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali to take the game on.
Key Australian: Adam Zampa
Zampa is the most important bowler in this Australian team. That may sound odd given the immense value of pace spearheads Cummins and Starc. But Zampa is the bowler that holds this attack together or, alternatively, allows it to break apart. Spinners have never been more integral to ODI line-ups. Against good batting units, like Pakistan, if your main spinner has no impact and so your opponent heads into the last 15 overs with lots of wickets in hand, the damage inflicted is often fatal. In such a scenario your star quicks are handed the heinous task of trying to rein in set batsmen intent on destruction. Zampa played a key role in the middle overs as Australia won consecutive series in India and Pakistan earlier this year. But so far in the World Cup he has laboured badly.
In three matches Zampa has taken four wickets at 42, while giving up a whopping seven runs per over. If he is bossed again today by Pakistan then too heavy a burden will be placed on Starc and Cummins.
Pakistan: Shadab Khan
Leg spinners have had it good against Australia in recent times. In the past two years England’s Adil Rashid has taken 26 wickets at 23 versus Australia, while Indian Yuzvendra Chahal grabbed 15 wickets at 23 against them.
Pakistan leg spinner Khan may not be as experienced as that pair – he is only 20 years old – but he’s made a fantastic start to his ODI career with 49 wickets at 27. He is yet to face Australia in ODIs, however he has troubled them in six T20Is, taking nine wickets at 18. Khan is a very well-rounded bowler – he gets good turn on his leg break, has a hard-to-pick googly, a great slider, and varies his pace and release points like a veteran. He was instrumental in Pakistan’s upset win over England last week getting the key wickets of Joe Root and Jason Roy. Khan is very accurate for a wrist spinner and will be used to try to stall Australia’s momentum through the middle overs.
Australia: Alex Carey
Carey is really growing into his role as Australia’s finisher. In his 13 ODIs batting down the order at six, seven or eight he has made 358 runs at 40 with a good strike rate of 102. That success has been built on his impressive play against spin. Carey is the best exponent of the traditional sweep shot in this current Australian team and is also adept at the reverse sweep.
As his confidence has bloomed of late he has also started trusting himself to advance down the wicket to spinners. Combined with his use of the sweep shots this makes it hard for spinners to settle into a length against Carey. At times it forces them to drag their length back and when they overcorrect and drop short he is quick to capitalise. Carey looks set to have a major role to play today due to the likelihood of Pakistan fielding three solid spin options in Khan, Hafeez and Malik. The wicketkeeper-batsman is fresh from the most eye-catching innings of his ODI career, having thrashed 55 from 35 balls against India on Sunday.
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