It was all going great for Pakistan. They were unstoppable in the shortest format of the game and increasingly looking like the team to beat in T20Is. Such was their consistency that in the whole of 2018, they lost just two out of 19 T20Is, a record that catapulted them to the top of the rankings charts.
2019, however, hasn’t been too kind to them. They have managed just one win out of eight completed T20Is, have seen their captain Sarfraz Ahmed ousted and with the T20 World Cup just a year away, suddenly find themselves bereft of ideas.
Pakistan still are the No.1 side in T20Is but losses at home to Sri Lanka and now two back-to-back below-par performances against Australia are bound to affect their confidence. They got lucky in Melbourne with rain coming to their rescue, but suffered a heavy loss in Canberra. Another defeat will see them lose five T20Is on the trot but more importantly will cost them the series.
The Men in Green need to come up with a plan, and it is not going to be easy against a rampaging Australian unit who do not seem like letting up.
The thing with Australia is identifying specialists when the need arises. They have mostly rested their key players in the shortest format of the game in recent times but with the T20 World Cup just a year away, Australia have mostly played a full-strength this summer.
It is another thing that their depth hasn’t been tested yet, especially on the batting front with Aaron Finch, David Warner and Steve Smith doing the bulk of the scoring. If Finch looked menacing in the rain-affected first T20I, Smith produced a masterclass of the highest order in Canberra. Often not known for his power-hitting, Smith smashed 80* in just 51 deliveries to see Australia home.
Going into Perth, Australia will once again rely on the trio to score the bulk of the runs. However, Pakistan have a chance in case they can get past these three. Ashton Turner has batted in just three of the five innings this Australian summer with his scores reading 1*, 22* and 8*. He has looked pretty uncomfortable too in the three innings, managing a strike-rate of just 100. Ben McDermott too has managed just 26 runs in the three innings he has played this summer, striking at just 89.7.
Without the services of Glenn Maxwell, Australian batting has lacked depth and in case Pakistan can get through the top-order cheaply, the hosts might suffer.
Australia’s bowling though has been outstanding. Be it the fast bowlers or spinners, they have just not let the opposition get away under any circumstance. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins have been exemplary upfront with Kane Richardson backing them up rather well. Cummins has been handed a well-earned rest ahead of the final match and one of Billy Stanlake or Sean Abbott might get a game.
On the spin front Adam Zampa has been miserly with his leg-spinners but the highlight so far in the series has been Ashton Agar, who has been on the money at all times. He is the leading wicket-taker this series so far and has been economical as well. Perth is where Agar has played all his cricket and he will be itching to prove his worth at his home ground.
From Pakistan’s point of view, it has all been going down over the last few games. However, as other Pakistan batsmen have struggled to get going, Babar Azam has looked every bit of comfortable in both matches so far. It’s the consistency that defines Babar more than anything else. He is the highest run-scorer in T20 internationals since the start of 2018 with 931 runs in 21 innings at an average of 54.76. He has 10 half-centuries in this time period, more than anyone else.
But he has just not gotten any support from his colleagues. Fakhar Zaman hasn’t crossed a score of 50 since July 2018 while Haris Sohail and Asif Ali have been out of touch. Iftikhar Ahmed looked good in his swashbuckling half-century in Canberra and he could get a promotion in the batting order. Imam-ul-Haq might also get a game in place of Fakhar.
On the bowling front too, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz have all looked lacklustre. Babar might look to give youngster Mohammad Hasnain on what is expected to be a relatively quicker surface at Perth.
Australia have most bases covered and should ideally seal the series in Perth.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (c), Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Asif Ali, Imad Wasim, Wahab Riaz, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Irfan
Australia: David Warner, Aaron Finch (c), Steven Smith, Ben McDermott, Ashton Turner, Alex Carey (wk), Ashton Agar, Sean Abbott/Billy Stanlake, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Kane Richardson