Finch's Australia keep defying expectations as World Cup nears
Australia's win not only provided a further indicator that the team of Aaron Finch and Justin Langer is now humming nicely as the World Cup draws closer, but also overturned a few preconceptions about the series. A comfortable chase of 281, the second-highest ever in Sharjah, despite the surfeit of ODI matches played there over the years, indicated that high scoring and aggressive batsmanship will be required on surfaces that offer little more than a hint of slow spin and little to nothing for the pacemen.
Equally, the expectations of the Australians that Pakistan would seek to take down the spin of Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon was somewhat confounded by the fact that this increasingly confident duo were able to dictate economical terms throughout large chunks of the Pakistan innings. Creating and sustaining tempo will be critical to this series, both with the bat and in the field. Australia were energy personified in the field - if not completely spotless - while Zampa and Lyon were able to control the pace of Pakistan's scoring in such a way that Finch never looked too perturbed by the the run rate. His confidence was evident in the chase, where once again Australia controlled the tempo of the innings expertly, scoring regular boundaries without ever looking like they were trying too hard to force things.
For Pakistan, there will be concerns that despite a serviceable-enough batting performance, the bowlers lacked the incisiveness to defend it while the fielding display bordered at times on the listless. Mohammad Amir was particularly expensive, while Mohammad Abbas was unable to exert quite the same measure of control he enjoyed over Finch and the Australians during the October Test series in the UAE. More, too, will be expected of , who played only a brief role in the 2015 World Cup, and with more days like game one, he might be in danger of a similar fringe post in 2019.
Australia WWWWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
As the stand-in captain, will be hoping for a more substantial contribution than his seven-ball 11 with the bat and one expensive over with the ball in the series opener. More vitally, Shoaib must find a way to marshal and enliven his team, after they appeared to be lacking verve and direction for much of a chase where the Australians never looked under any serious pressure despite the fact that the chase got over only in the penultimate over. A promotion in the batting order may be one way for Shoaib to dictate terms a little more.
With a determined - if not exactly fluent - 91 not-out, added further to the selection logjam faced by Australia with Steven Smith and David Warner soon to be eligible for national duty following their . The key to Marsh being able to secure a spot in the World Cup squad after his recent travails will be consistency - making scores in more matches than this one. Seldom has this been a strength for Marsh, meaning he will battle the voices between his ears as much as the threats posed by the Pakistan attack.
Pakistan are taking the opportunity to experiment ahead of the World Cup. Abid Ali, Mohammad Hasnain and Saad Ali could all be in line for debuts at some point, but when that happens over the course of this series remains to be seen.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Shan Masood, 3 Umar Akmal, 4 Haris Sohail, 5 Shoaib Malik (capt), 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Faheem Ashraf, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Yasir Shah, 10 Mohammad Amir/Usman Shinwari, 11 Mohammad Hasnain
Pat Cummins was rested for the opening match as his workload is managed ahead of the World Cup and the Ashes, but he could come back into consideration. Most of the players in the squad can expect some game time during the series as Australia firm up their World Cup squad, so room may also be found for Ashton Turner.
Australia (possible): 1 Usman Khawaja, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Peter Handscomb, 4 Shaun Marsh, 5 Marcus Stoinis, 6 Ashton Turner, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Jhye Richardson, 9 Pat Cummins, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Adam Zampa
Pitch and conditions
As seen in game one, Sharjah's surface is dry, slow and low, offering little in the way of assistance to bowlers but also posing some challenges to batsmen in terms of timing the ball. The weather forecast is fine.
Stats and trivia
Australia haven't won five ODIs in succession since they were victorious in nine in a row in 2015, including their World Cup winning run that year
Pakistan haven't beaten Australia in an ODI in Sharjah since the final of the Austral-Asia Cup in Sharjah in May 1990. Australia haven't lost to any team in Sharjah since India defeated them at the ground in 1998.
\"It was just nice to do it two down and do it a bit more clinically than what we have over the last few months, when we've been in that situation. They're sometimes the best innings you'll play as a batsman, when things aren't going your way. It wasn't an innings where he [Marsh] hit the middle of the bat and it was free flowing from the start. For him to grind out the first 30 or 40 runs to find his rhythm was really important.\"