The opening ODI between Australia and Pakistan was a tightly contested clash without doubt, but one major factor separated the two teams – the lower-order batting. While Pakistan’s lower-order failed to capitalise on the platform built by the middle-order, Australia managed to scrape home thanks to a wonderful fight back by their late-order batsmen, after the side batting second had suffered a mid-innings collapse. At a time when Pakistan needed some crucial runs batting first, Kamran Akmal, Shahid Afridi and Sohail Tanvir combined to gather merely five runs and, in stark contrast, George Bailey and Glenn Maxwell contributed 57 (not out) and 38 respectively, to take their side home in a pressure situation.
Pakistan’s lower-order alone shouldn’t be blamed for the defeat. Their entire batting line-up as a whole should be held responsible for the close loss. After all, four batsmen in Pakistan’s top six got starts, but none of them went on to register a big score. Nasir Jamshed and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq perished after crossing their 20’s while Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq fell in their 50’s. Such wasted starts cannot get a team anywhere in international cricket. As a result, despite having two half-centurions, Pakistan were bowled out for under 200. Also, they didn’t do themselves any favour by being clean bowled well before the 50-over mark. This tendency to collapse has been a perennial problem with Pakistan cricket, one that refuses to go away.
If at all Pakistan managed to stay in the game in spite of their poor batting effort, it was thanks largely to their lion-hearted bowling performance. Saeed Ajmal troubled most of the Aussie batsman, and was among the few positives from the game for Pakistan. His three-wicket haul gave Pakistan a brief hope of springing a surprise. The two other spinners, Mohammad Hafeez and Shahid Afridi, also utilised the conditions, and made their presence felt. In fact, at one stage, the Misbah’s men had the Australians in serious trouble at 67 for 4. However, like with their batting, Pakistan did not have depth in their bowling to exert further pressure. As a result, Australia began recuperating and, in the end, got home without much trouble. If only the batsmen put up better scores in the future games, Pakistan have the wherewithal in the bowling attack to trouble the Aussies. There was enough evidence of the same in the opening game.
Meanwhile, even though the Australians would be pleased with their opening win, they would like to tighten their game against spinners, Ajmal in particular. Spin is one area where Pakistan can put Australia in serious trouble, and how these contests pan out will go a distance in deciding who maintains ascendancy in the series.
--By A Cricket Analyst