Finch's Australia keep defying expectations as World Cup nears

Shoaib Malik carves a shot through the off side @ABOCricinfo

Big Picture

Australia's win on Friday not only provided a further indicator that the team of Aaron Finch and Justin Langer is now humming nicely as the World Cup draws closer, but also overturned a few preconceptions about the series. A comfortable chase of 281, the second-highest ever in Sharjah, despite the surfeit of ODI matches played there over the years, indicated that high scoring and aggressive batsmanship will be required on surfaces that offer little more than a hint of slow spin and little to nothing for the pacemen.

Equally, the expectations of the Australians that Pakistan would seek to take down the spin of Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon was somewhat confounded by the fact that this increasingly confident duo were able to dictate economical terms throughout large chunks of the Pakistan innings. Creating and sustaining tempo will be critical to this series, both with the bat and in the field. Australia were energy personified in the field - if not completely spotless - while Zampa and Lyon were able to control the pace of Pakistan's scoring in such a way that Finch never looked too perturbed by the the run rate. His confidence was evident in the chase, where once again Australia controlled the tempo of the innings expertly, scoring regular boundaries without ever looking like they were trying too hard to force things.

For Pakistan, there will be concerns that despite a serviceable-enough batting performance, the bowlers lacked the incisiveness to defend it while the fielding display bordered at times on the listless. Mohammad Amir was particularly expensive, while Mohammad Abbas was unable to exert quite the same measure of control he enjoyed over Finch and the Australians during the October Test series in the UAE. More, too, will be expected of Yasir Shah, who played only a brief role in the 2015 World Cup, and with more days like game one, he might be in danger of a similar fringe post in 2019.

Form guide

Australia WWWWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)

Pakistan LLWLL

Aaron Finch took the attack to Yasir Shah @ABOCricinfo

In the spotlight

As the stand-in captain, Shoaib Malik will be hoping for a more substantial contribution than his seven-ball 11 with the bat and one expensive over with the ball in the series opener. More vitally, Shoaib must find a way to marshal and enliven his team, after they appeared to be lacking verve and direction for much of a chase where the Australians never looked under any serious pressure despite the fact that the chase got over only in the penultimate over. A promotion in the batting order may be one way for Shoaib to dictate terms a little more.

With a determined - if not exactly fluent - 91 not-outs, Shaun Marsh added further to the selection logjam faced by Australia with Steven Smith and David Warner soon to be eligible for national duty following their Newlands scandal bans. The key to Marsh being able to secure a spot in the World Cup squad after his recent travails will be consistency - making scores in more matches than this one. Seldom has this been strength for Marsh, meaning he will battle the voices between his ears as much as the threats posed by the Pakistan attack.

Team news

Pakistan are taking the opportunity to experiment ahead of the World Cup. Abid Ali, Mohammad Hasnain and Saad Ali could all be in line for debuts at some point, but when that happens over the course of this series remains to be seen.

Pakistan (possible): 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Shan Masood, 3 Umar Akmal, 4 Haris Sohail, 5 Shoaib Malik (capt), 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Faheem Ashraf, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Yasir Shah, 10 Mohammad Amir/Usman Shinwari, 11 Mohammad Hasnain

Pat Cummins was rested for the opening match as his workload is managed ahead of the World Cup and the Ashes, but he could come back into consideration. Most of the players in the squad can expect some game time during the series as Australia firm up their World Cup squad, so room may also be found for Ashton Turner.

Australia (possible): 1 Usman Khawaja, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Peter Handscomb, 4 Shaun Marsh, 5 Marcus Stoinis, 6 Ashton Turner, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Jhye Richardson, 9 Pat Cummins, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Adam Zampa


As seen in game one, Sharjah's surface is dry, slow and low, offering little in the way of assistance to bowlers but also posing some challenges to batsmen in terms of timing the ball. The weather forecast is fine.

Stats and trivia

Australia haven't won five ODIs in succession since they were victorious in nine in a row in 2015, including their World Cup winning run that year

Pakistan haven't beaten Australia in an ODI in Sharjah since the final of the Austral-Asia Cup in Sharjah in May 1990. Australia haven't lost to any team in Sharjah since India defeated them at the ground in 1998.

More Updates:ABOC-Cricinfo                


Alex Hales, Asif see Islamabad through, Karachi Kings eliminated

Alex Hales, Asif see Islamabad through, Karachi Kings eliminated

Islamabad United 164 for 6 (Hales 41, Delport 38, Talat 32, Asif 24*, Umer 2-16) beat Karachi Kings 161 for 9 (Babar 42, Munro 32, Musa 3-42, Faheem 2-30) by 4 wickets

How the game played out

Karachi Kings may be one of the less prolific sides in this competition's brief history, but they are the only side to have knocked Islamabad United out of any PSL tournament. That victory came in an Eliminator two years ago. But today, Islamabad United avenged that loss in a scrappy, entertaining game where both sides chugged along like an antique car on a dodgy engine, hurtling along seemingly without control before grinding to a halt at various stages of their innings. The upshot was a four-wicket win for Islamabad, who chased down Karachi's 161 with three balls to spare.

Despite the loss, the most memorable part of the game was arguably the first six overs. Karachi had courageously won the toss and chosen to bat first in a tournament where that decision is close to sacrilege, and blistered to 50 in just 20 balls as Colin Munro finally began to make good on the talent based on which he was signed. When he feathered an edge to Mohammad Musa, he had smashed 32 runs in a mere 11 balls, and Karachi were motoring along at 17 an over. They would go on to add an eye-watering 78 in the first six, as the boundaries flew like confetti.

Islamabad came back to choke them after the Powerplay ended, and somehow maintained that stranglehold right throughout the innings, with Karachi only just managing to double their Powerplay total, in the end limping to 161 for nine. Most of Islamabad's bowlers had recovered their figures, and the one who was most expensive - Muhammad Musa - was the highest wicket-taker, having removed Munro, Ingram and Iftikhar Ahmed.

Islamabad's chase always looked tight, not helped by a slow start and Ronchi's early departure. Alex Hales and Cameron Delport saw them through the Powerplay, but the nerves wouldn't have been eased as the asking rate continued to rise in the face of a stellar bowling attack and a world-class spell from Umer Khan. Towards the end, it came down to Islamabad's own local talent in Faheem Ashraf, Asif Ali and Hussain Talat to manage the asking rate. Mohammad Amir missed his lines once too often, Babar Azam dropped a catch once too frequently and Karachi were simply a few too short in the final overs. It all amounted to Islamabad getting to the finish line just in time, dashing Karachi's hopes of a title on home soil.

Turning point

Karachi began to struggle as soon as that whirlwind of a Powerplay came to a close, but the final three overs were especially ruinous to their chances. Positioned at 150 for six with three overs to go, they still had the opportunity to pose a stiff challenge with a brisk finish. Instead, the last three overs saw a mere 11 runs scored.

Star of the day

Pakistan have swooned over the fast bowling gems they may have unearthed this tournament, and bemoaned the lack of exciting local batsmen. But the find of the competition may be 19-year old Umer Khan, perhaps the most promising spinner to come out of the PSL since Shadab Khan. Having impressed ever since he got AB de Villiers out weeks ago, Umer has found a way to get the biggest names of the planet out just when Karachi have required him to. His spell today was one of the spells of the tournament, with the teenager the only bowler to find genuine drift and turn on a flat wicket. He wasn't afraid of flighting the ball, and found due rewards, finding the outside edges of Delport and Chadwick Walton within three deliveries of each other. He ended up with 4-0-16-2, and if ever a performance deserved not to end up in the losing side, it was his.

The big miss

Ronchi has the highest strike rate in the world off the first 10 balls, but the New Zealand opener was strangely subdued over that period today. Valued around the world because he doesn't need so much as a warm-up ball to begin attacking the bowlers, Ronchi played out nine deliveries today, unable to get one to the boundary rope. Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir and Aamer Yamin all executed their plans perfectly, pitching the ball short of a length. It deprived Ronchi of the ability to strike the ball through the line. The change-up came off his ninth ball, with Yamin sending down a wide yorker that Ronchi could only mishit to mid-on. 5 off 9 is an unlikely innings breakdown for the Islamabad talisman, and in a game of exceptionally fine margins, they almost ended up paying for it.

Big picture

Karachi bow out with today's defeat, with Islamabad through to the playoff with Peshawar tomorrow. The winner of that contest plays Quetta Gladiators in the final.