LAHORE: Travis Head smashed a 72-ball 101 and capped his ODI return with two wickets to lead a short-handed Australia to an impressive 88-run victory over Pakistan in the series-opener in Lahore.
Chasing 314, Pakistan rued a slow start and struggled against Australia’s spinners in dewy conditions under lights to be bowled out for 225 in the 46th over in what was a return to the format for Australia and Pakistan since July.
Australia had only 13 players to choose from and handed debuts to legspinner Mitchell Swepson and quick Nathan Ellis. Pakistan had fresh faces, too, with 34-year-old leg spinner Zahid Mahmood and young quick Mohammad Wasim making their ODI debuts.
Despite missing their first-choice pace attack, along with Ashton Agar, who tested positive for Covid-19 on the morning of the game, a disciplined Australia tied down Pakistan in the middle overs through Swepson and Adam Zampa in a rare occurrence of the tourists playing two frontline spinners. Swepson claimed the key wicket of captain Babar Azam for 57, while Zampa tore through the lower-order to finish with 4 for 38 from his ten overs.
Pakistan’s chase was held together by Imam-ul-Haq, who averaged 74.6 in the Test series, with the opener hitting 103 off 96 as he accelerated towards his century after a sedate start. But he fell to a cracking yorker from Ellis in a terrific maiden ODI wicket as Australia’s unbeaten tour of Pakistan continued.
Imam and Babar paid the price for a cautious 96-run second-wicket partnership, off 118 balls, where they appeared to be in cruise control only for the run rate to keep increasing.
In the first ODI in Lahore since 2015, which was Babar’s debut, the Pakistan skipper became the second-quickest after Hashim Amla to reach 4000 ODI runs and he achieved the milestone in style with a boundary off Swepson amid fans chanting his name while waving their lighted smartphones.
Eyeing the long haul, Babar knocked the ball around and hit the odd boundary through masterful precision. After a gorgeous square drive off Swepson, he survived a shout for lbw with the decision upheld much to the chagrin of skipper Aaron Finch, continuing Australia’s poor use of DRS from the Test series.
But Swepson, finding a groove he lacked during his Test initiation, would not be denied with a first ODI wicket when he trapped Babar lbw in the next over with a full leg break that was unsuccessfully reviewed.
With the ball skidding on the surface, Head’s terrific match continued with a handy spell mid-innings, and his nagging off-breaks accounted for Saud Shakeel and Iftikhar Ahmed. It capped a commanding performance for Head, who played his first ODI since November 2018.
After being sent in, Australia appeared on course for a big total through Head’s pyrotechnics at the top, only to be pegged back by Pakistan’s spinners before Cameron Green gave them a late spark with an unbeaten 40 off 30 balls.
Having struggled during Australia’s historic Test series victory, averaging just 22.67, Head was in sparkling form from the get-go as he dominated a Pakistan attack desperately missing the speed and skill of spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi, who was rested after a heavy workload during the Test series.
It was Head’s second ODI century – both have been against Pakistan – and he showcased his liking for the top of the order to boost his average as an opener to 45.69 from 13 matches, which is well above his overall mark of 36.
He dominated a 110-run opening stand with Finch and may have heightened the pressure on the struggling Australia captain’s long-term place at the top. Having labored through the Australian summer with a knee injury, Finch once again lacked fluency in his first ODI since December 2020 to make an unconvincing 23 off 36.
No. 3 Ben McDermott, however, made his case with a calm 55 off 70 until he needlessly ran himself out after a misfield. The BBL MVP has struggled in ODIs and T20Is but mostly played sensibly in his maiden ODI half-century.
It was a tale of two halves for Australia in their batting innings, as they scored around seven runs and over in the first half only to be tied down in the second, with Zahid producing sharp turn while left-arm orthodox Khushdil Shah bowled an excellent spell at the back-end.
Their total appeared par for the course but it proved more than enough as Head completed his comeback in style to lead Australia to their tenth straight ODI win over Pakistan.