Ed Hawkins previews game one of three match series with the hosts looking to assert their dominance in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday...
"We wouldn’t expect Pakistan's price to nosedive with the flip in their favour"
Pakistan v Australia
Wednesday 24 October 17.00
Pakistan No 1 in the world
Pakistan are the best T20 side in the world. That may have escaped your notice because their players are not touted as superstars by the various franchise leagues which have cropped up over the world. And they don't appear in the Indian Premier League.
They are rated the No 1 team by the ICC and they haven't lost a series for the last two years, returning a sequence of 19 wins and four defeats. It's hard to argue with. But it's also easy not to overblow their dominance. They haven't played India, the No 2 team, in that period. And when they met Australia, No 3, they suffered a thrashing before recovering to win the next two, including the final, in a tri-series involving Zimbabwe in Harare in July.
The men who have been pulling up tress are Fakar Zaman and Babar Azam, fast starters at the top of the order who have got all the strokes. With the ball, spinner Shadab Khan is a serious performer and almost rivals Rashid Khan for the tag of best tweaker in the world.
Mohammad Amir, who has decent numbers behind him, has been axed from the squad and Shoaib Malik doesn't play in game one because he hasn't arrived on time. Go Figure.
Aussies in decent shape
There is no Steve Smith or David Warner, of course, but Australia will not be fazed by that. Despite losing the last Test, the new breed will feel happy and confident having proved many detractors wrong by being competitive.
Aaron Finch, who will benefit hugely by proving he can adapt to the longest form, leads the side which boasts a plethora of dangerous hitters - Glenn Maxwell, Chris Lynn, D'Arcy Short and Ben McDermott. A word, too, for wicketkeeper Alex Carey who is a terrific player.
Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa and a fit Nathan Coulter-Nile is a good T20 bowling line-up. Billy Stanlake's awkward delivery could surprise some Pakistanis.
Toss bias alert
The Abu Dhabi wicket is often slow and low, which will surely not suit Australia. They had little trouble thrashing a limited UAE side on in on Monday, though. There is a significant toss bias. In the 11 matches under lights, eight have been won by the team fielding first. We would be pretty dumb to ignore that. The last five first-innings scores read: 124-102-148-146-125.
With Pakistan rated at [2.08] we have to claim them as terrific value. There is no evidence Australia deserve favourite status here at [1.9]. And if you're happy to bet the hosts before the flip that's fine because they stand up to scrutiny with the contest effectively being a fifty-fifty call.
But we can wait and side with Pakistan fielding first. We wouldn't expect their price to nosedive with the flip in their favour. So long as stellar skip Sarfaraz Ahmed makes the right decision at the toss they would be knockout value still.
Malik a big miss
Zaman and Azam are Pakistan's top runscorers in the last two years. They have 646 and 626 respectively. Zaman is the faster scorer of the two but Azam's average is a whopping 18 runs superior. Zaman is 3/1 and Azam 7/2 on the top Pak bat market with Sportsbook. Malik, third on that list, is a big miss.
Short and Finch look set to open. Short will have a good vibe after whacking 68 against the UAE. He is 16/5 third jolly behind Finch at 12/5 and Lynn, who should bat at No 3, at 7/2. Maxwell, for so many harshly treated in Test selection, is 5s. He always catches the eye at such a price.
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l
Back Pakistan batting 2nd at [1.9] or better