The Aussie challenge

K Shahid previews the final of the ongoing T20I tri-series in Zimbabwe

The Aussie challenge
Today (Friday) there will be a dead rubber between Zimbabwe and Australia to be played our as the final round robin contest. On Thursday, the second Pakistan-Australia contest would have already been played out, which would have been a (slightly less) dead rubber of a different variety, without the same significance as the first matchup of the series between the two teams – or indeed their next one.

Australia and Pakistan qualified for Sunday’s final after the latter beat Zimbabwe on Wednesday in what eventually turned out to be a convincing seven-wicket win, despite it going to the final over. Reaching the final is a continuation of Pakistan’s stupendous run under Sarfraz Ahmed, which has seen them win every single T20 series since he has taken over.

Fakhar Zaman

However, regardless of – and not knowing – what happened on Thursday between the two sides, Pakistan are playing a side in the final that absolutely bulldozed them in the first round robin match.

In that game, Australia posed the world’s top T20 side a two-pronged problem in the shape of Billy Stanlake and Aaron Finch.

The ground for the Aussie win was set by Stanlake’s 4/8 spell, which was the most economical T20I bowling performance by an Australian ever, and the second best Aussie figures of all time behind James Faulkner’s 5/27. The Pakistani top order simply couldn’t deal with the pace and bounce that the Aussie quick threw at them, with three of the dismissals going into the hands of Finch at slip.

Fakhar Zaman

The Aussie skipper then struck 68* off 33 balls to ensure that his side romped home in the 11th over, in a masterful display of power hitting. Of course, he would double up on this with a 172 against Zimbabwe in the very next match, which is the highest ever T20I score by a batsman and the second highest T20 score behind Chris Gayle’s 175.

That these two showings came at the back of nine consecutive defeats for Australia across all formats signifies their mental strength and indeed the ability of this side to bounce back from adversity.

Of course, the Pakistani side has demonstrated this ability to retort in recent times as well. And Sunday’s final will not only have silverware, and Pakistan’s unbeaten series run, on the line – the number one T20 ranking is up for grabs as well.

Billy Stanlake leading the Aussie attack

Despite the defeat against Australia, Pakistan have a lot going the right direction. Such has been their dominance in T20Is that the Australia match could be treated as a one-off blip.

But what is also true at the time of writing is the fact that the defeat in the solitary T20I in England remains the only loss for Australia in the format since October last year. That is the kind of form that has propelled them to number two in the rankings and on the brink of the apex.

It is evident that Australia have a lot of explosiveness in both the batting and bowling and that is precisely what Pakistan would need to tame.

Pakistan’s bowling performance thus far has been a cause for concern, and the side could have conceded a bigger total against the Solomon Mire led Zimbabwe on Wednesday had it not been for some top death bowling, especially by Mohammed Amir.

While FakharZaman’s form up top is a cause for buoyancy, there still is uncertainty in the opening slots. Will it be Mohammed Hafeez or Harris Sohail that goes with Fakhar? The absence of Babar Azam and Ahmed Shehzad for contrasting reasons has left the top-order a bit uncertain.

The bowling could definitely improve and we’re yet to see the best of Shadab Khan or Hasan Ali – the top performers in the shortest format for Pakistan in recent times.

Pakistan would have to display the kind of resilience that they’ve depicted in recent times that has propelled them to the top. Anything less than that would make a slip up against Australia inevitable.