Defending champs Australia ready for unpredictable Pakistan
TAUNTON, England (AP) — When Sarfaraz Ahmed says past results mean nothing to his Pakistan team, he genuinely means it.
Few would doubt him, either, particularly rival captains at the Cricket World Cup.
Five-time champion Australia swept Pakistan 5-0 in a one-day international series in March. That extended Australia’s winning streak to eight in ODIs after coming back from 2-0 down to win a series 3-2 in India.
Australia is again favored to win the group-stage encounter against Pakistan at Somerset’s County Ground on Wednesday, but the odds don’t matter. Pakistan was bounced out for 105 in its tournament-opening loss to West Indies but rallied to beat top-ranked England, a pre-tournament title favorite, to end a run of 11 straight defeats.
Sarfaraz and his squad are sick of being dubbed the most unpredictable team in ODI cricket, but it’s the most reliable tag for them.
“It’s the past. We’re not thinking about that,” Sarfaraz told a news conference on Tuesday, reflecting on the 5-0 drubbing inflicted by Australia just over two months ago. “Our morale is very high. Momentum is very high. So hopefully we’ll do very good against them.”
Against England, Pakistan’s top order all got starts, with Imam-ul-Haq (44), Fakhar Zaman (36), Babar Azam (63), Mohammad Hafeez (84), and Sarfaraz (55) helping post a total of 348-8. The bowlers kept England to 334-9 in reply.
Australia has won 14 of the last 15 and two-thirds of the 100 completed ODIs overall between the two nations but has only a 5-4 edge in World Cups.
The wins include the 1999 final at Lord’s the last time the tournament was in England, and the quarterfinals in 2015 en route to winning the title. Pakistan took the early honors in the ’99 tournament with a 10-run win at Leeds in the league phase.
The Australians lost to India by 36 runs at the Oval on Sunday, when David Warner was uncharacteristically cautious in compiling his 56, Steve Smith scored 69, and the run-rate required eventually got way beyond the lower-order in the run chase.
Skipper Aaron Finch predicted Warner is just finding his rhythm and his strike rate will improve.
Allrounder Marcus Stoinis strained his side bowling his second spell against India and will miss the Pakistan game and possibly the rest of the tournament. Mitch Marsh is coming as cover as a precaution, and Finch said he’s undecided about whether to add a batter or a bowler to the lineup against Pakistan.
“We have not won many matches against Australia but we had not won too many against England, either, and we managed to beat them,” Sarfaraz said in comments published by the International Cricket Council. “We will be as positive and aggressive as we were against England — that is the level of performance we need to be successful against a team like Australia.”
With wet weather around, the captain winning the toss will likely want to bowl first and take their chances on the Duckworth-Lewis revised run-rate targets. Pakistan’s third game, against Sri Lanka, was washed out without a ball being bowled last Friday in nearby Bristol and the teams had to share the points. The Sri Lanka-Bangladesh game in Bristol was also abandoned because of rain and the South Africa-West Indies match at Southampton on Monday was washed out after 7.3 overs.
Sarfaraz would like his team’s chances in a rain-shortened match, and has confidence after its unexpected title in the Champions Trophy in England two years ago.
Finch said his team was approaching the match with confidence but noted Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali didn’t play in the March series, and Mohammad Amir played only the first game, so he was expecting to face an entirely different attack.
“We’ve seen consistently throughout, especially ICC tournaments, they get themselves in a position to win the tournament,” he said. “And they had a great Champions Trophy. So regardless of what kind of form Pakistan go in with, they’re always incredibly dangerous.
“There’s no player that you can disregard. They’ve got a lot of experience on their side, they’ve got a lot of match winners,” he added. “Every time you come up against Pakistan you have to play your best to beat them.”