SHARJAH: A new-look, younger Pakistan side faces a resurgent Australia in the first of five one-day internationals in Sharjah on Friday.
Pakistan have rested their six key players – captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali and Shaheen Shah Afridi, allowing bench players a chance to grab a spot in the World Cup squad.
Stand-in skipper Shoaib Malik is confident conditions in UAE – where Pakistan have been playing their home matches since 2009 attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore – will favour his team.
“Every series is tough but it´s a good opportunity for young players,” said Malik at the trophy unveiling ceremony on Thursday. “Australia will be high on morale but we should have an advantage of the conditions.”
Pakistan are likely to give a one-day cap to opener Shan Masood after a good Test series in South Africa while either 18-year-old Mohammad Hasnain or Mohammad Abbas will supplement Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan and Faheem Ashraf in the pace attack.
Malik admitted Australia were a strong side who have done well in UAE.
“They play the game in an aggressive style, so we have to match that aggression,” said Malik, who also led Pakistan between 2007 and 2009. “They are a strong team and have everything from fast bowling to spin, so we have to be at our best.”
Paceman Pat Cummins took 13 wickets while leg-spinner Adam Zampa 11 in the recent series against India. Off-spinner Nathan Lyon is also in the squad.
Australian skipper Aaron Finch hoped his team would carry the momentum of a series win in India to their five-match series against Pakistan.
The Pakistan series is the last chance for Australia to fill any gaps before they defend their title in the World Cup starting in UK from May 30.
“It is about trying to maintain our momentum that we got in India,” said Finch of the 3-2 come from behind win earlier this month – Australia´s first series win in India since 2009.
The win in India — after six consecutive one-day series defeats — was a boost for the Australia team who lost two key players — skipper Steven Smith and opener David Warner — to bans for ball tampering last year.
“I think since we played South Africa in Australia we have got better and better,” said Finch of the 2-1 series defeat in November last year.
“I think we are starting to get a real clear strategy in a real game plan and how we want to play one-day cricket and it is just about making sure that we continue in that way.”
Smith and Warner were available for the last two one-day matches of this series after their one-year bans expire on March 29 but they were reintegrated with the team in United Arab Emirates (UAE) before leaving to play in the Indian Premier League.
“I think Pakistan has obviously played in these conditions for a long time,” said Finch of Pakistan who have not beaten Australia in a bilateral series since 2002, losing the last five series.
Pakistan also have just one win against Australia from the last ten ODIs.
“We cannot take them lightly in any form of the game at any time. They are a highly skilled and talented team and so we are definitely giving them as much respect as what we gave India,” said Finch.
The remaining matches will be played in Sharjah (March 24), Abu Dhabi (March 27) and Dubai (March 29 and 31).
Pakistan: Shoaib Malik (captain), Abid Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Sohail, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Rizwan, Saad Ali, Shan Masood, Umar Akmal, Usman Shinwari, Yasir Shah
Australia: Aaron Finch (captain), Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Ashton Turner, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Lyon, Adam Zampa
Umpires: Michael Gough (ENG) and Ahsan Raza (PAK)
TV umpire: Kumar Dharmasena (SRI)
Match referee: Jeff Crowe (NZL)