Pakistan seek better support for Babar Azam to counter red-hot Australia

Ashton Agar picked up two wickets and went at under a run-a-ball © Getty Images

Big Picture

Rain in Sydney not only robbed Australia of the chance to complete a T20 series victory over Pakistan in the space of two matches, it also meant that the hosts will not be able to overtake Babar Azam‘s team as the world’s No. 1 ranked T20I team with a win in the final match in Perth – the tourists will cling on by a single point even in defeat.

But there remains plenty to play for, not least the series itself, and also the continuing road towards a now imminent Test series between the two teams, beginning in Brisbane in a couple of weeks’ time. Pakistan still appear very much in acclimatising mode, having run into an Australian side committing serious mental and physical energy to T20 international matches for the first time since the 2016 global event – next year’s on home soil being the first of two in as many years.

While Australia will have to rebalance their bowling attack somewhat, in the absence of Pat Cummins as he freshens up ahead of the Tests, there has been a strong sense of cohesion about the hosts’ approach, either attacking from the top through Aaron Finch and David Warner or letting Steven Smith direct traffic for the middle order in the event of an early wicket or two. With the ball and in the field, the Australians have not quite been as stingy as the Perth Scorchers at their best, but they are tracking that way both in terms of tight bowling combinations and predatory work to cut off runs and seek run-outs.

Pakistan offered some signs of hope at Manuka Oval, not least the aggression of Iftikhar Ahmed as some long-awaited help for Babar, but also a little more cutting edge to their bowling line-up. The additional bounce on offer at Perth Stadium, where Australia’s ODI team was well beaten by South Africa at the start of last summer, has the potential to bring the visitors still further into the game, should they get their lengths right.

Form guide

Australia WWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Pakistan LLLLL

In the spotlight

Never conceding more than 27 runs in a spell while also scooping six wickets, Ashton Agar has been a considerable success story for Australia over this bracket of T20 matches. He has, with help from Adam Zampa, ensured that the hosts have a three-dimensional nature to their bowling attack that has not always been evident in the game’s shortest format. Pakistan, like the world’s other nations, will need to find a better way to combat his changes of pace and variations in spin before next year’s global event on similar surfaces.

Babar Azam watches one race away © Getty Images

Scores of 59 not out and 50 have underlined the rare nature of Babar Azam’s talents, but in each case his innings have not amounted to all they might have been for a lack of adequate help. With Iftikhar having announced himself in Canberra, albeit on a less bouncy wicket that can be expected in Perth, there is reason for Babar to hope that others may soon come to the party.

Team news

The decision to rest Cummins for the final match of the series suggests a possible return to the side for Sean Abbott, though Billy Stanlake is also waiting in the wings.

Australia (probable): 1 David Warner, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Steven Smith, 4 Ben McDermott, 5 Ashton Turner, 6 Alex Carey (wk), 7 Ashton Agar, 8 Sean Abbott, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Kane Richardson

A promotion may be possible for Iftikhar following his Canberra fireworks and the need for Babar to have more support towards the top of the order.

Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Haris Sohail, 4 Iftikhar Ahmed, 5 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 6 Asif Ali, 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Wahab Riaz 9 Shadab Khan, 10 Mohammad Amir, 11 Mohammad Irfan/Mohammad Musa

Pitch and conditions

The Perth Stadium pitch can be expected to be fast and bouncy, with a hot day forecast for Perth – temperatures are expected to be around 33C about the time of the first ball at 4.30pm local time.

Stats and trivia

  • David Warner needs 67 runs to become the leading all-time T20I scorer in matches between Australia and Pakistan, surpassing Umar Akmal (335 runs) and Kamran Akmal (366)
  • Australia and Pakistan have never played a T20I against each other in Perth before


“In the past we’ve used these opportunities to rest some of those guys but we need to get better at it. It’s something that’s a priority for Australian cricket so therefore you want to play your best players as often as you can. We’re really lucky, we’ve got great depth in the squad. We’ve got a ripping bunch of blokes in this squad and that’s really pleasing.”
Justin Langer doesn’t want to see any drop in intensity for the final game of the T20 series

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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