Almost out of the blue, Pakistan managed a win at Melbourne. And, that too as comprehensive as it gets. They went into the second ODI, with their confidence remaining on a low, after being crushed in the opening one-dayer. But, a forced change in captaincy proved to be a blessing in disguise. With Azhar Ali ruled out due to injury, and Sarfraz Ahmed back in Pakistan owing to personal reasons, the recalled Mohammad Hafeez saw himself being thrust into the captain's role. And, while one game is too little for one judge his leadership skills, his presence did make a big difference at the intimidating Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), especially since he contributed with the bat as well.
The challenge for them now will be to build on that unexpected glory. Consistency is not something Pakistan are renowned for, but Perth is a venue which will suit their bowlers. History shows that they have won more than they have lost here. Junaid Khan was exemplary at Melbourne, and his confidence should be high after that performance. The WACA should offer him pace and bounce which he will enjoy. At the same time, he should not get too carried away with the conditions. Mohammad Amir also bowled reasonably in the winning match, but needs to maintain his rhythm. One quandary for Pakistan would be whether to stick with Hasan Ali or bring back the erratic match-winner Wahab Riaz.
Pakistan's batting will be tested under the bouncy and pacy conditions at Perth. But for Hafeez's half-century and a mature hand by Shoaib Malik, they could have faltered in the chase in the second match too. The victory at Melbourne was centred mainly around the bowlers, which means the batsmen still have a task on hand. At the top, Sharjeel Khan must score runs. Babar Azam has been having a rough time, and needs to justify his place in the team. Asad Shafiq too needs to get over his antics in the first Test when he nearly pulled off a miraculous victory, and concentrate on the job at hand. Umar Akmal has had a quiet series so far, and that again is worrying.
Australia, rather surprisingly, have been equally susceptible with the bat in the series. The top and middle order has crumbled in both matches, and the fact that the scoreline reads 1-1 is thanks to a mature ton by Matthew Wade in the first match, and the support he received from Glenn Maxwell. But, at the MCG, the entire batting unit crumbled, and the result was a rare victory for Pakistan. The lack of runs from David Warner has hurt Australia in a big way. Further, Steven Smith and Usman Khawaja too haven't succeeded. After a handsome Test series, Peter Handscomb is all set for his ODI debut, and the Aussies will hope his presence brings in a sense of much-needed assuredness.
Australia will be weakened in the bowling department as Mitchell Starc, their key weapon, has been rested. This will definitely give Pakistan an upper hand of sorts, unless of course Billy Stanlake would have figured out how to bowl in international cricket. He looked real nervous on debut. Starc's absence means greater pressure on Josh Hazlewood, but that is something he has thrived on. James Faulkner has been cunning as ever while Pat Cummins' pace has also caused trouble to Pakistan. The Aussies though seemed to be a confused lot at present, already worrying about the India series. Perhaps, it would serve them better if they concentrate on the task at hand.
--By A Cricket Analyst