x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Three-figure deals on agenda at Zayed Cricket Stadium

Australia captain Michael Clarke wants his batsmen to convert their fifties into hundreds in Abu Dhabi, writes Osman Samiuddin.

David Warner, the Australia opening batsman, has a go at the nets in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National
David Warner, the Australia opening batsman, has a go at the nets in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National

Michael Clarke wants his top-order batsmen to go on and make a big score in the second one-day international against Pakistan at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi tomorrow.

Australia won the first game in Sharjah on Tuesday night by four wickets, stuttering at first before chasing down a moderate 199-run target on the back of fifties from Clarke and George Bailey.

But half-centuries are hardly the problem for the touring batsmen. In 23 ODIs since the start of this year, Australia have only four hundreds to show and all of them were scored at home during the tri-series earlier this year against Sri Lanka and India.

Since then, away from home in the Caribbean and England, however, they have had a spate of fifties but no hundreds to show. And it has contributed to an unusually poor set of results; four wins and six losses in their last 12 ODIs (one tied and one abandoned).

"Our batting can improve in areas from the other night [in Sharjah]," said Clarke. "I'd love to see somebody in our top four go on and make a big score, make a hundred."

Clarke himself has made two fifties in two games in the UAE but cited the oppressive heat and humidity as one of the possible factors in why the top order has not gone on.

"I've got two starts and I haven't been able to go on [to score a hundred]. I think heat is certainly a factor. But more than that it's the conditions, it's the slowness of the pitch, the slowness of the outfield in Sharjah.

Pakistan can probably empathise with Australia's issues, although their own batting is suffering from a more acute version of the problem. The performance in Sharjah was emblematic of a malaise which has seen the side bowled out inside 50 overs five times in nine losses this year.

They were well-placed at 160 for four in the 36th over, starting the powerplay with two well-set batsmen in Asad Shafiq and Umar Akmal. But Shafiq was bowled off the second ball of the powerplay and Pakistan lost two more wickets in that five-over stretch (for 16 runs) to fritter away the momentum.

It is becoming a concern, serious enough for a team meeting to specifically address the issue today. Responsibility and sharper game thinking are concepts the management is keen to impress upon a young top order.

"Reading the game is very important and we spoke about this earlier today that if players are able to read the game properly, they'll be in a much better position to respond with the appropriate tactic," Dav Whatmore, Pakistan's coach, said.

"Clearly mistakes [were made] in that batting powerplay when we lost three wickets for 16 runs, but to understand – not just losing three wickets – but why you lose three wickets and being able to understand what should be done and shouldn't be done in critical periods like that [is important]," Whatmore said.

"Asad Shafiq is the future of Pakistan cricket, Azhar Ali is the same, Umar Akmal is also but the sooner they are able to display an improvement in their thinking, it will be much better for them individually and the team will benefit enormously."

Alongside the batting has been an issue of finding the right balance. Pakistan effectively played with eight batsmen for the first ODI yet were still bowled out for under 200. Although their all-round options have served them well, it could be argued that too many all-rounders have affected Pakistan's order.

Whatmore, however, did not feel the balance in Sharjah at least was a problem. "It didn't reduce the strength of the bowling," Whatmore said. "We still had five good bowlers, that is the main thing and that is why teams are strong, if you are able to bat deep without compromising your bowling attack. I think that was a very strong Pakistan team, one which could've done better and we're hoping to rectify that."

On a surface not unknown to assist spin and pace, both sides are likely to consider at least one change; Australia are toying with the idea of playing a specialist spinner – Xavier Doherty potentially – while Pakistan could bring in Junaid Khan for Aizaz Cheema.


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