After a gruelling tour of England, where they were swept 6-0 in the limited-overs series, Australia might have hoped that a short trip to Zimbabwe would provide a welcome change of pace and a change of fortunes. But their tri-series opener will be against the No.1 T20I side, and after Pakistan’s clinical drubbing of the hosts in Sunday’s game it seems there will be no let-up in intensity for Australia just yet.
“England was a tough tour, losing the one-dayers and the T20 game,” Australia T20 captain Aaron Finch admitted. “But we’re here to win. There’s only a handful of us that have played here before, but we know reasonably well what the conditions are going to be. Half the boys trained this morning, and half were [at Harare Sports Club] to watch today to just try and find out some more info.”
What they found out could well trouble them. Australia had struggled to impose themselves on England’s slow bowlers, and conditions are usually more suited to the spinners in Zimbabwe. On Sunday, Pakistan’s spinners claimed a combined 5 for 43 in 8.5 overs, with Mohammad Hafeez celebrating his return to legality as an international bowler by taking 2 for 3 in five balls. Left-armer Mohammad Nawaz had done the early damage, taking a wicket in the first over and immediately putting the brakes on Zimbabwe’s chase. He is likely to perform a very similar role with the new ball against Australia.
“For the last couple of seasons I’ve been opening the bowling in T20 cricket,” Nawaz said. “[Against Zimbabwe] I was varying the pace and getting a little help from the track. The slower deliveries were turning a bit, though with the new ball there wasn’t that much.
“We’ll go in with the same mindset tomorrow and play our best cricket,” he said. “We’ll keep the same strategy we had today, and probably the same gameplan too.”
Pakistan appear to have the firepower in their spin attack to keep Australia in check. But it was Australia who had outgunned Pakistan the last time the two sides met, at the World T20 in Mohali, with James Faulkner taking 5 for 27 to seal a 21-run win that knocked Pakistan out of the tournament. There will be a completely different complexion to both sides this time around, however, with Pakistan enjoying their hottest winning streak in T20Is while Australia are floundering for stability.
Pakistan have won their last eight T20I series, and their last eight games. Since that disastrous World T20, they’ve undergone a fundamental personnel change in the format and won 20 of the 23 T20Is they have played. During the same period, Australia’s record reads: played 14, won 9, lost 5.
Yet, Australia are still ranked third, just one point behind India, and if they are able to completely reverse their fortunes and go undefeated through this tri-series, they could leave Zimbabwe as the top-ranked T20I side in the world, usurping Pakistan.
“We’re ranked no. 3 in the world behind Pakistan, so this is a really good opportunity to test ourselves again and make sure that we’re measuring up and still improving in this format,” Finch said.
“And you can never take anything for granted in T20. We know it’s a game that anyone can win by themselves on a given day,” Finch said, echoing what has already become a familiar refrain in this tri-series.
“There is no weaker side in T20 cricket,” Nawaz agreed. “If it’s your day, you’ll dominate, if it’s not, you won’t. Going in to this game, there is an equal chance for both teams.”
A short, sharp series means they won’t have much time for Australia to get their combinations right in Zimbabwe, and the situation hasn’t been helped by a couple of delayed flights that have slowed preparations. They are also already missing several frontline players through injury or misadventure.
“All the teams are missing a couple of players, but that’s just the nature of sport,” Finch said. “You have some injuries, you have some other issues that pop up every now and then. So we’re still really confident in the players we have coming into this series. Everyone who’s here has a chance to play. When you pick a squad you like to mix and match the guys who can fit in anywhere.”