Sharjah: Australia will be looking to rediscover the form that allowed it to dominate the one-day international format in recent years when the three-match series against Pakistan starts on Tuesday in Sharjah.
The Australians were No. 1 until a 4-0 loss to England and other results demoted the team to fourth in the ICC rankings — its lowest ever position. Pakistan has been struggling lately as well to drop to sixth in the world, losing 3-1 to Sri Lanka and also being beaten 4-0 by England earlier this year.
"I think both teams are keen to get some consistency into the one-day game," Australia captain Michael Clarke said Sunday. "Pakistan is a lot like Australia in the fact they have a lot of talent. It's just about performing consistently, getting out on the field and playing some of your best cricket."
Clarke praised the team's performance in beating Afghanistan by 66 runs in a one-off ODI on Sunday. Australia can also take some confidence from the fact that it has dominated Pakistan in recent ODIs, winning the last four series and not lost to the opponent since 1989.
"Our cricket in general back in Australia has been a lot more consistent than away from Australia, so it's certainly a goal of the Australia team that we are performing overseas," he said. "We started well against Afghanistan, but we will have to be at our best against Pakistan."
Pakistan coach Dav Whatmore said it will be an "interesting" contest but feels the Australians are vulnerable following a recent string of injuries and player retirements.
"The opposition (is) licking their wounds a little bit from recent performances," Whatmore said. "They have had some injuries and they have had results not go their way. We are hoping to continue that form, but we are also aware they can come back pretty sharply, pretty hard to try and reverse that trend."
The hot and humid conditions and late night starts in the United Arab Emirates may play a part in the outcome. However, the performance of the spin bowlers looks likely to be crucial, with Pakistan set to choose a lineup that includes tweakers Mohammad Hafeez, Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal.
Australia has also included a few spinners, such as Glenn Maxwell, Xavier Doherty and Steve Smith — but none have the reputation of Pakistan's slow bowlers. Australia's batsmen has also has even spent time in Darwin to face spin in net sessions ahead of the series.
"To have success in the next three, one day, whoever bowls spin the best and whoever plays spin the best will win the series," Clarke said. "Pakistan is very good one-day team. Their great strength is spin bowling. They have some really good spinners. Our preparations as a batting group facing spin has been good ... We felt we played pretty well last night against a fair bit of spin. "
Whatmore acknowledged spin would be a key factor but noted many of the wickets in the Australia-Afghanistan match were taken by quick bowlers.
"Certainly, the Pakistan team attack I wouldn't say revolves around spin, but it is a fairly decent component of our attack," Whatmore said. "We have been bowling more spin than quick (bowlers) in 50-over matches, and that will be important. Whatever they deliver to us, we have to be on our toes to either chase the total or set a decent target."
Whatmore also downplayed Pakistan's recent troubles in ODIs, saying his team could have won the two matches it lost against Sri Lanka.
"You could look at the win-loss ratio and you could say we were beaten badly," Whatmore said. "But those that look closely, we managed to clutch defeat from the jaws of victory. Both games were ours until we nicely handed it back to the opposition. We are painfully aware of the areas the boys need to get better in and, if that can happen, this team will be a lot more consistent."
Hafeez said they have an advantage by playing in Sharjah, a city where the team holds a 76-33 record dating back to 1984.
"I know the history but we are not keeping anything in our mind," Hafeez said. "We are playing this series like a fresh series, and hopefully the boys will do something good for Pakistan."