4th ODI: Azhar back to squad to lead Pakistan against Australia

PERTH: Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali has been declared fit and will lead the team in the fourth ODI against Australia in Sydney.

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Azhar suffered a hamstring injury in the opening ODI in Brisbane and had to miss the second ODI at MCG.

In his absence, veteran all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez captained the side and top-scored to help Pakistan record their first victory on Australian soil in 12 years.

In the third ODI, Hafeez was retained as captain, however, Pakistan were unable to secure a victory.

Australia lead the five match ODI series 2-1 and clean swept Pakistan in the Test series.

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Australia will hope for another superlative show from its batsmen as it looks to seal the One-Day International series against Pakistan in the fourth game in Sydney on Sunday (January 22).

Steven Smith, the captain, (108 not out) and Peter Handscomb (82) combined to resign Pakistan to a seven-wicket defeat in the last ODI on Thursday, chasing down the 264-run target with five overs to spare to take a 2-1 lead.

For Pakistan, there were 152 dot balls in that game – a statistic that didn’t please Mickey Arthur, the coach. He will expect his batsmen to step up. Sharjeel Khan, who made 50, was the only Pakistan batsman with a strike-rate over 100 in the innings. Babar Azam, the 22-year-old batsman earmarked for success, made a 100-ball 84, but, with the rest of the batsmen not offering much support, succumbed under pressure.

Pakistan could consider promoting Shoaib Malik up the order to No. 4. The spot is currently occupied by Asad Shafiq, returning to the ODI side after a gap of over a year, to fill in for the injured Azhar Ali.

However, Shafiq could make way for Azhar, who was back in the nets on Thursday. The Pakistan captain retired hurt in the first match and sat out of the next two, but completed a 15-minute fitness test in Sydney.

“He’s done all the rehab and everything,” said Azhar Mahmood, the bowling coach, ahead of the fitness test. “He’s pretty much sure he’ll play and the physio is sure he will play.”

Meanwhile, Australia could draft in Mitchell Starc, the paceman, who rejoined the squad in Sydney after he was rested for the third ODI, as well as Adam Zampa, the legspinner, who has missed all three games.

The SCG wicket is expected to be slow and spinning, which will be of great solace to Pakistan, which has Imad Wasim, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik at its disposal to give the ball a rip. Should that prove to be case, Australia’s vulnerabilities against spin could once again be exposed as was the story in the second ODI in Melbourne, where Pakistan’s spinners set up a stunning six-wicket win.

The toss, therefore, could prove crucial. Pakistan will prefer chasing, hoping to keep the opposition down to 250 or less. Australia, though, will trust its batting depth and firepower to see it through if the surface doesn’t prove too spicy.

Allan Border’s 1987 World Cup winners will receive commemorative medals during the innings break on Sunday. Smith will hope that his men can ensure a double delight with Australia securing the series silverware on the same day too.

Teams (from):
Australia: Steven Smith (capt), David Warner, Pat Cummins, James Faulkner, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Chris Lynn, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Billy Stanlake, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade (wk), Adam Zampa.

Pakistan: Azhar Ali (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Rahat Ali, Sharjeel Khan, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz.

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