Preview: Focus turns to Pakistan's bench strength against resurgent Australia
Pakistan decided to rest their six key players including captain Sarfaraz Ahmed for the series to test their bench strength ahead of the ODI World Cup. Other five players rested for the five Australia ODIs include Hasan Ali, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Shadab Khan.
Malik hoped the new players will take this opportunity to the stake a claim for the Wolrd Cup scheduled to start in late May this year. Pakistan picked uncapped Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Saad Ali, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Hasnain and recalled Umar Akmal, Yasir Shah and Mohammad Rizwan in place of the rested players.
“Look, every series is a tough series so this is another tough series for us,” Malik told media at the trophy unveiling ceremony on the eve of the first ODI in Sharjah.
“Australia have come at the back of a series win in India, so their morale will be high, but we have taken a good initiative to check our bench strength and I am sure the conditions in UAE will favour us.”
In the absence of Fakhar, Masood is likely to make his ODI debut while Abbas is also expected to play his first white-ball game for Pakistan. There is also an outside chance that rookie teenage pacer Mohammad Hasnain might also get a go after he was selected for the series on the back of strong performances in the recently concluded fourth edition of the Pakistan Super League, including a man of the match performance in the final.
Although Pakistan defeated Australia 1-0 in a two-Test series followed by a 3-0 clean-sweep in the T20I series last year in the UAE, Malik admitted Australia were a strong ODI side, especially after their recent momentum.
“They play the game in an aggressive style, so we have to match that aggression,” said Malik, who also led Pakistan between 2007 and 2009. “They are a strong team and have everything from fast bowling to spin, so we have to be at our best.”
“This is a good opportunity for the youngsters to not only make their name but also vie for the available World Cup spots,” said Malik. “The decision to rest the players, who deserved the rest after playing continuous cricket, was unanimous and a wise one.”
Australia, at the back of a 3-2 series win in India two weeks ago, are not going to take a new-look Pakistan lightly, their captain Aaron Finch said.
“I think Pakistan have obviously played in these conditions for a long time, but coming off the tour of India it is very crucial that we managed to play some really good cricket there,” said Finch.
“Well, they have got a lot of experience in their side and have lot of experience playing in these conditions here in Sharjah. They still a world-class team. We have seen it when we were in Dubai for the T20 series,” said Finch of the 0-3 whitewash in the T20 series in October last year.
“We cannot take them lightly in any form of the game at any time. They are such a highly skilled and talented team, and so we are definitely giving them as much respect as what we gave India and what we give every other country.”
Usman Khawaja led the ODI series run-charts against India with 383 runs in five ODIs, including two centuries while Peter Handscomb scored 236 runs. From the bowling side, Pat Cummins took 14 wickets while leg-spinner Adam Zampa grabbed 11. Off-spinner Nathan Lyon is also in the squad.
Australia hope all-rounder Glenn Maxwell recovers in time from the flu and take the field on Friday.
The series is also Australia last ODI engagement before the defence of their title begins in England and Wales from May 30 and Finch hopes his players take the opportunity to seal their World Cup spots.
“It is about trying to maintain our momentum that we got in India. I think we are starting to get a real strategy in a real game plan and how we want to play one-day cricket and it is just about making sure that we continue in that way.
“Obviously we want to win, that is important but leading into the World Cup and things like that is important to just keep improving the whole time.
“I think when you look through our lists probably I presume 20 players could make that 15. So, still there are a few places no doubt that are up for grabs. It is an important tour for as they are up for grabs and it is an important tour for a lot of us.”
Pakistan's last ODI engagement was against South Africa where they lost the series 3-2. Sarfraz Ahmed was suspended midway through the ODI leg after an incident with all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo and Malik led Pakistan in rest of the games. Pakistan drew level after going behind 2-1 before they lost the decider by seven wickets in Cape Town. Before that, they drew a five-match series against New Zealand in the UAE after the fifth ODI was washed out.
Last five ODIs: L, W, L, L, W
Australia will be high on confidence after they incredibly recovered from 0-2 down to against India to take the series 3-2 that included performances from both batsmen and bowlers. While Usman Khawaja will try to add to the two ODI tons he got against India, the like of Ashton Turner, Marcus Stoinis and Shaun Marsh will also be critical for Australia's chances.
Pat Cummins and Adam Zampa were critical with the ball for the Aussies against India and Australia will hope the duo continues their brilliant form.
Last five ODIs: W, W, W, L, L
Shan Masood, Imam-ul-Haq, Haris Sohail, Shoaib Malik (c), Umar Akmal, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Imad Wasim, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Abbas/Yasir Shah
Aaron Finch (c), Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell/Ashton Turner, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jhye Richardson, Adam Zampa