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Cricket news - Australia, Pakistan search for final jigsaw pieces

Despite a stellar show in India, Usman Khawaja is not guaranteed of a spot in the World Cup squad

So, this is it. With the World Cup just a little over two months away, these five ODIs in UAE dish out a crucial opportunity for Australia and Pakistan to make the final amends to their plans.

In their hunt for the right players to fill the last couple of places ahead of the World Cup and to ensure that their key players are fresh when they embark on an almost three-month long journey to the British Isles, Pakistan made as many as eight changes to its squad from the one that lost to South Africa 3-2 in an away series. With their captain amongst the six mainstays rested, Shoaib Malik will take the reins once again.

That the Pakistan selection committee and Mickey Arthur are sure about who will occupy most of the spots in the final 15-man squad has been conveyed to the journalists on numerous occasions. But, at the same time, for those who were named in the squad after their runs in the PSL - namely Umar Akmal and Yasir Shah - this is a chance to pile up pressure on the national selectors.

For Australia, this is an opportunity to further consolidate on the momentum gained in India. And the fact that batsmen like Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb, who have previously not been able to capitalise on their opportunities, have raised their hands and that bodes well for the group, whose next 50-over outing will be the two World Cup warm-up games.

Nathan Lyon and Adam Zampa will be in the spotlight as the Australian management, after finally recognizing the necessity of playing two spinners to maximize the advantage that the surfaces present, will look to bowl the two in tandem in the middle overs. After all, what better place is there to try out your spin strength than the UAE?

WHEN: March 22, 2019

WHERE: Sharjah Cricket Stadium, UAE

WHAT TO EXPECT: A warm day with the sun shining on the picturesque Sharjah stadium. Erratic clouds might show up, but they don't threaten to have an impact on the game

Team News

Pakistan: As expected, Pakistan had no qualms in adding an outshining emerging talent from the PSL. Mohammad Hasnain, the 18-year-old pacer from Hyderabad who won the Man of the Match award in the PSL final, had pressed his case for a maiden call up by hitting consistent lengths whilst generating brute pace. With Junaid, Mohammad Amir, Usman Shinwari and Fahim Ashraf in the squad, Hasnain is likely to get a one-off match, something that Sarfraz Ahmed hinted at in the post-PSL final press conference. With Fakhar Zaman rested, Shan Masood is set to make his ODI debut and transfer his List 'A' form to the apex level.

Probable XI: Imam ul Haq, Shan Masood, Haris Sohail, Shoaib Malik (c), Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Imad Wasim, Fahim Ashraf, Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan, Yasir Shah, Usman Shinwari

Australia: After Usman Khawaja and Pat Cummins's prolific run across the five ODIs in India and Marcus Stoinis' all-round contribution at Feroz Shah Kotla, the tourists would like to test out the same lineup. Shaun Marsh, Australia's best batsman in the format last year, might have to sit out for the most part of the series.

Probable XI: Usman Khawaja, Aaron Finch (c), Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Ashton Turner, Alex Carey (wk), Jhye Richardson, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Adam Zampa

Did you know?

- Since the turn of the century, Pakistan haven't beaten Australia at Sharjah. The two sides have met in two Tests and three ODIs in this century. The last time Pakistan defeated Australia here was in 1990 under Imran Khan in the final of the Austral-Asia Cup.

- Pakistan's win/loss ratio of 0.516 against Australia is their worst against any opposition in the ODI format. They have lost as many as 62 matches - the second most against any opposition (the most is 70 against West Indies) - and won only 32 in 98 matches.

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