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With talk that his prowess is lacking Pakistan's Shahid Afridi, left, can use the Australia series to prove his critics wrong.
With talk that his prowess is lacking Pakistan's Shahid Afridi, left, can use the Australia series to prove his critics wrong.

Plenty to ponder for both sides when Pakistan face Australia

The series between Pakistan and Australia looks like an afterthought, crammed in to the schedule, but one that also should have been more.

An international series of three one-day internationals and three Twenty20s cannot help but reveal the central, flawed paradox in the modern cricket calendar.

Not only does the schedule feel packed absolutely tight, it also rarely feels fulfilling for it.

This series between Pakistan and Australia looks like an afterthought, crammed in to the schedule, but one that also should have been more. Pakistan's broadcast deal means it had to happen this year; the Tests-leg of this fractured tour will be held in 2014 (probably in the UAE).

Broadcasters being moneymakers first, it also meant that the tour could not be restricted just to T20s and had to include ODIs as well.

ODIs are easily made irrelevant and the three to start this series (plus another that Australia play against Afghanistan) are loitering around for no particular reason.

Pedantically speaking, they will not be one-day matches either, starting at 6pm one evening and finishing well past 1am the following morning, if it goes the distance.

Over 50 overs, both sides have been lately unsettled.

Since June last year, Australia have lost only one series they have played. They even won the triangular series against strong opposition in India and Sri of the year.

But their recent fall in the rankings from first to fourth - their lowest position since rankings were introduced in 2002 and the first time in nearly three years they have dropped from the top - is not undeserved. They have actually lost more games than they have won in that period and could not beat the West Indies in a series.

In the 4-0 drubbing to England they looked as un-Australian a team as can be remembered: toothless, muted, defeated.

Their bowling, specifically, lacked that mongrel. Clint McKay has been their best bowler this year, a hearty but ho-hum kind of bowler unlikely to go beyond a handy limited overs career. A hamstring injury means he will not even be in the ODIs.

Admittedly, Pakistan's ODI side has rarely not been unsettled, but predicting how they might go right now is especially fraught. Like Australia they, too, have won a tournament against good opposition (the Asia Cup) and like them again, they were swatted aside by England 4-0.

In between, they have won mostly against weaker opposition and their most recent loss - 3-1 to Sri Lanka away - was more alarming than it appeared at the time. The batting is as nervy as it has ever been and their bowling - their get-out clause - iffy. The fortunes of Younis Khan and Umar Gul, axed from the ODI leg, capture the malaise in each discipline well.

More worrying must be the gradual lessening of Shahid Afridi. The numbers still look reasonable, but from the start of this year, his bowling has looked strangely deflated.

It is tempting to conclude that the stripping of his captaincy last year is a cause, but it just as well could be, as he has hinted, that his days are coming to an end.

The real meat of the tour will be the T20s, which is not often the case. The World T20 begins in Sri Lanka eight days after the last T20 in Dubai and in terms of preparation, neither side could have asked for more. If anything the humidity of Sri Lanka will be exceeded by what the players experience in Dubai, but the surfaces - lowish, slowish, spin-friendly - will likely be even more alike.

On pedigree, Pakistan start favourites. They have made two finals and one semi-final of the World T20. They have some of the format's leading bowlers. In theory the conditions should suit them more. And Australia still do not look entirely comfortable with the format itself.

But Pakistan's batting is so brittle and so in awe of Australia do they remain after years and years of being walloped by them that it will not be quite so simple as that. And no one can be quite sure just what effect the weather will have.

The lazy assumption is that Pakistan should be better suited to such climes (lazy because that is what they said before being thumped in two Tests in Sharjah a decade ago).

But Australia, you can be sure, will be better prepared for it.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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