Pakistan’s stand-in captain Shoaib Malik hopes his new-look side will be up for a challenge against a resurgent Australia side as they meet in the first of five one-day internationals in Sharjah on Friday.
Pakistan have rested their six key players – captain Sarfraz Ahmed, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali and Shaheen Shah Afridi – in order to give them well-deserved rest and allow bench players a chance to grab a spot in the World Cup squad.
Malik hoped the new players – Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Saad Ali, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Hasnain – and recalled Umar Akmal, Yasir Shah and Mohammad Rizwan will take this opportunity.
“Look, every series is a tough series so this is another tough series for us,” said Malik at the trophy unveiling ceremony.
“Australia have come at the back of a series win in India, so their morale will be high, but we have taken a good initiative to check our bench strength and I am sure the conditions in UAE will favour us.”
In the absence of Fakhar, Shan is likely to make his ODI debut after piling runs in domestic one-day matches, against New Zealand ‘A’, England Lions and on the Test tour of South Africa.
There will be a tie between Test specialist Mohammad Abbas and 18-year-old rookie fast bowler Mohammad Hasnain for the one available spot 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 series against India. Off-spinner Nathan Lyon is also in the squad.
Pakistan will also look to give ODI cap to one from Mohammad Abbas, a good performer at Test level, and Mohammad Hasnain who has recently impressed with his pace in the recently concluded PSL 2019.
“This is a good opportunity for the youngsters to not only make their name but also vie for the available World Cup spots,” said Malik. “The decision to rest the players, who deserved the rest after playing continuous cricket, was unanimous and a wise one.”
Australia, at the back of a 3-2 series win in India two weeks ago, are not going to take a new-look Pakistan lightly, their captain Aaron Finch said.
“I think Pakistan have obviously played in these conditions for a long time, but coming off the tour of India it is very crucial that we managed to play some really good cricket there,” said Finch.
“Well, they have got a lot of experience in their side and have lot of experience playing in these conditions here in Sharjah. They still a world-class team. We have seen it when we were in Dubai for the T20 series,” said Finch of the 0-3 whitewash in the Twenty20 series in October last year.
“We cannot take them lightly in any form of the game at any time. They are such a highly skilled and talented team, and so we are definitely giving them as much respect as what we gave India and what we give every other country.”
Australia hope all-rounder Glenn Maxwell recovers in time from the flu and take the field on Friday.
Finch, whose team is playing their last series before the defense of their World Cup title begins in England and Wales from 30 May, hopes players compete for the available spots.
“It is about trying to maintain our momentum that we got in India. I think we are starting to get a real 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.
“Obviously we want to win, that is important but leading into the World Cup and things like that is important to just keep improving the whole time.
“I think when you look through our lists probably I presume 20 players could make that 15. So, still there are a few places no doubt that are up for grabs. It is an important tour for as they are up for grabs and it is an important tour for a lot of us.”
The remaining matches of the series 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 (wk), 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 (wk), Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Lyon, Adam Zampa