Two highly unpredictable sides, both having won a match by a vast margin against the other in the space of the past week. Pakistan and Australia have seen the quality of their play veer from one extreme to another during the Twenty20 triangular series in Zimbabwe, paving the way for a final that is brimful of possibilities.
Loudly criticised by their captain Sarfraz Ahmed earlier in the tournament, Pakistan put it all together for a 45-run victory over Australia on Thursday, in a result that also preserved their No. 1 T20I ranking on the ICC table. Through the shot-making abilities of Fakhar Zaman and the middle-order intelligence of Asif Ali, they were able to put up a more than defensible score, and then used the new ball to tremendous effect, principally through the seam and swing of the highly promising Shaheen Afridi.
This made for quite a contrast with the opening match between Australia and Pakistan, where Aaron Finch’s side took the momentum virtually from the start, through a hostile and well-directed opening spell from Billy Stanlake. He has been unable to replicate that display, and Finch’s strong scores in the first two matches – including a world-record 172 against Zimbabwe – have given way to early exits in the past two games, exposing the weakness of Australia’s batting order in the absence of the suspended David Warner and Steven Smith.
For the Australians there is also the desire to see evidence of progress under their new coach Justin Langer, who made his demands clear by having his players push through a lengthy training session immediately after their loss to Pakistan, a performance characterised by sloppiness with the ball, the bat and in the field. Having lost all six internationals to England on the first leg of this tour, a defeat of the world’s foremost T20I team would be an indicator that the Langer era is beginning to take shape.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Not only the tournament’s leading run-scorer, Aaron Finch has led Australia with the hungry air of a man who wants his country’s limited-overs leadership on a more permanent basis. A victory in the final would go a long way towards securing that title, in 50-over matches as well as the T20 format. Pakistan will be very aware of how Australia have performed when Finch gets going – two commanding wins – and also of their contrasting fortunes when he has not, with a defeat to Sarfraz Ahmed’s side and then a scrappy win over an already eliminated Zimbabwe.
While Shaheen Afridi took most of the bowling plaudits from Pakistan’s win over Australia on Thursday, the vastly more experienced Mohammad Amir seemed to be working his way into good rhythm in his second appearance of the tournament. Given the importance of the new-ball exchanges across the tournament, Amir’s Sunday spell will likely be a strong indicator of who will emerge victorious in the final.
Teenaged left-armer Shaheen Afridi’s incisive spell against Australia in Thursday’s qualifying match should mean he retains his place in the team for the competition decider.
Pakistan (possible) 1 Fakhar Zaman, 2 Haris Sohail, 3 Hussain Talat, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt/wk), 6 Asif Ali, 7 Faheem Ashraf, 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Mohammad Amir, 10 Usman Khan, 11 Shaheen Afridi
Having dropped D’Arcy Short at the top of the order and moved Alex Carey up to partner the captain Aaron Finch, Australia’s selectors must decide whether to persist with the combination that beat Zimbabwe on Friday.
Australia (possible) 1 Aaron Finch (capt), 2 Alex Carey (wk), 3 Travis Head, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Nic Maddinson, 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Ashton Agar, 8 Jack Wildermuth, 9 Andrew Tye, 10 Jhye Richardson, 11 Billy Stanlake
Pitch and conditions
After a week of matches, the surface for the final is expected to be on the slow side, and may well take some spin. Harare’s weather forecast is for clear skies and slightly cool temperatures.
Stats and trivia
Pakistan’s win over Australia on Thursday means they will retain the No. 1 ICC ranking in Twenty20 internationals irrespective of the result of the final
Australia’s previous appearance in a triangular series final in Harare resulted in a six-wicket ODI defeat by South Africa in September 2014. Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell are the only two players from that team who will take the field on Sunday
“This is the No.1 team we’re going to be going up against in the final and I know we’ve had a bit of recent success in tri-series with our win in Australia and New Zealand. If we can continue to win tri-series regardless of where it is and who’s playing, it just breeds a good culture in the side.”
Glenn Maxwell on the stakes for Australia