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While most teams across the globe have consumed their quota of international game time before embarking on the World Cup journey, Australia and Pakistan have one final opportunity to iron out the wrinkles as they meet each other at UAE in a five-match ODI series.
Fortunately for Australia, they found solutions to most of their problems with a massive series win over India in their recently concluded tour. Pakistan, on the other hand, haven't played much cricket together with almost all of their players coming after spending considerable time playing in Pakistan Super League.
The miraculous win over India has certainly raised expectations from the Australians and with Pakistan doing reasonably well in limited-overs cricket in recent times, we expect a cracker of a contest when the two teams meet to play the first ODI of the series on Friday, 22nd March at Sharjah Cricket Ground, UAE.
Pakistan haven't played international cricket for over a month and a half, but a jam-packed ensured their continuous participation in competitive cricket. Compared to the side that played in South Africa, Pakistan have made as many as eight changes with players doing well in PSL getting a national cap.
Although Sarfaraz Ahmed was set to return to the fold following the completion of his four-match ban, a hectic PSL prompted the selection committee to rest him for a few more matches. Shoaib Malik will lead the side in his absence. Alongside Sarfraz, the likes of Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, and Shadab Khan have also been rested as the management wouldn't really want the players to feel fatigued in the marquee event.
Following a decent show in the PSL, Junaid Khan and Umar Akmal are rewarded with a national call and will have to play out of their skins to cement their place in the squad going to England. Faheem Ashram, Saad Ali, and Imad Wasim will shoulder the bowling duties in the absence of Hasan Ali and Shaheen Shah Afridi. Hasnain Ali, who outplayed all other bowlers on the finals day, is the part of the squad, but it will be interesting to see if he will be a part of the team in the first ODI. Despite their absence, the Pakistani bowling lineup doesn't look underpowered at all - which speaks volumes about Pakistan's pool of fast-bowling talent.
Shan Masood, Imam-ul-Haq, Haris Sohail, Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Faheem Ashraf, SI Wasim, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Amir, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas.
Prior to their win over Indian, Australia looked down and out with Steve Smith and David Warner out of the side. In all the series they played, they were looking for consistency, stability, and application which was nowhere to be found. To add to that, a 4-1 drubbing at home by Indians would have brought the confidence of Kangaroos down to the floor. However, with World Cup closing in, the defending champions found their pristine form when they magically came from behind to register their first bilateral ODI series win since January 2017.
The absence of David Warner and Steve Smith is going to stretch for one more series despite the duo being available for the last two matches. The other probable candidates for World Cup slots - Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood too have been given extended rest. With these four players likely to walk into the World Cup squad, the competition to book a seat on Australia's flight to England has grown multifold.
Going by Australia's performance in India, almost everyone in their lineup getting something going for them with Shaun Marsh being the only exception. Aaron Finch, whose place in the side let alone the leadership was in question prior to the start of the series, did reasonably well in India. Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb were standout players for Australia in the recently concluded series and with the likes of Glenn Maxwell, Ashton Turner, and Marcus Stoinis available in the lower middle-order, this Aussie batting lineup is deeper than Mariana Trench.
Josh Hazelwood and Mitchell Starc are expected to be back in the ODI setup in the world cup and the competition to perform will be fierce between the two Scorchers' bowlers, Jhye Richardson, and Jason Behrendorff, in the upcoming series. Pat Cummins and Adam Zampa have been brilliant and are perhaps only two bowlers to have a confirmed place in the World Cup squad.
Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Shaun Marsh, Alex Carey, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jhye Richardson, Nathan Michael Lyon, Adam Zampa.
Toss here doesn't really play a major role. Out of the last six matches played here, three have been won by the team batting first while the other three have gone the chasing team's way. With surface expected to be a batting beauty, the captain winning the toss is expected to bat first.
Read our guide on toss predictions to learn how we analyze and come up with our tips.
It hardly ever rains at Sharjah and it isn't expected to rain on Friday either. In fact, it is forecasted to be a sunny day with heat likely to have a key impact on the surface. The surface is expected to be hard and even where it isn't going to be easy for the bowlers. Spinners, however, are likely to get into the picture once the ball gets older. Although the surface will slow down with the progression of the game, we do not it will change too much. The team batting first will be looking to put at least a total of 280 runs on the board.
There have been many standout performances from the players of both sides in India and in PSL respectively. While the likes of Khwaja, Handscomb, and Zampa impressed for Australia, Shenwari and Malik did well for the hosts.
The surface at Sharjah is expected to be a batting beauty so limiting the number of bowlers to three would be a wise choice. Although Carey has done reasonably well in the limited number of opportunities he got during Australia's tour of India, he isn't likely to bat in the top half of the lineup making Rizwan as a better choice for the wicket-keeping position. Khawaja and Handscomb were the standout players against the world-class Indian bowling attack in the recently concluded series and they are our choice for the captain and vice-captain role.
Considering the nature of the surface, which is expected to favor the batsmen, it would make sense to pick batsmen who are likely to play as many deliveries as possible - considering which we have picked the following team.
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Australia announced themselves with a momentous 3-2 win over the Indians after being 2-0 in the series. There isn't a lot of difference between Pakistan and Australia, as far as ICC World ODI rankings are concerned and it should be a hard-fought match. Having said that, the recent win would have boosted the morale of the Australian camp. The Pakistani players, on the other hand, might be a little fatigued after a breathtaking PSL. Considering the way Australians defeated India in the foregone series and Pakistan unlikely to play their full-strength squad, Australia are firm-favorites to emerge on top in the upcoming encounter.
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