Australia have lost their ODI series in Pakistan after being outclassed by nine wickets in the decider, pummelled by another dazzling batting masterclass from Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq in Lahore.
Captain Babar raced to a second consummate century in three days on Saturday while Imam continued to torment the visitors with 89no as the magnificent double act eased past Australia’s wholly inadequate 210 all out with 73 balls to spare. Their unbeaten second-wicket partnership of 190 eased the hosts to a 2-1 series win after losing the first match on Tuesday and left a cricket-mad nation celebrating its first home ODI series victory over Australia since 1988.
Babar’s mastery with his unbeaten 105 off 115 balls contrasted with the continuing struggles of his fellow captain Aaron Finch, who posted consecutive ducks for the first time in his international career as Australia fell woefully short.
Only Alex Carey (56 off 61 balls) and some late heroics from Sean Abbott (49 off 40 balls) ensured Australia fended off complete calamity when they had threatened, at 8-162 in the 35th over, to post their lowest-ever ODI total against Pakistan. Abbott’s late heroics, though, still proved nowhere near enough as Babar and Imam continued their irresistible form.
It may, though, have been a different story if Travis Head hadn’t spilled a relatively simple chance at short midwicket, gifted by Babar off Jason Behrendorff when he’d scored just one. The drop proved calamitous as Babar repeated his majestic hundred which had decorated Pakistan’s record ODI chase in the second match on Thursday. Between them, Babar and Imam have scored four hundreds in five days.
Left-hander Imam’s excellence, having scored four hundreds against Australia in the Test and ODI formats, would have earned him a third hundred of the 50-over series if not for his captain’s rush to get to the landmark first.
It all went wrong for the visitors from the start when they slumped to 2-0 in the second over with Head bowled by a Shaheen Afridi full toss on the first ball of the innings before Finch was trapped plumb lbw by Haris Rauf. When Marnus Labuschagne (four) was caught at slip in the sixth over, Australia were reeling at 3-6. That became 5-67 when the in-form Ben McDermott (36) was caught at cover from a leading edge.
Carey combined with Cameron Green (34) for a crucial 81-run stand, but there was still the alarming prospect that they might not get past the 8-165 they posted at the SCG in 1990. Abbott cracked six fours and one six in his blistering knock to at least dispel, peeling off 21 runs off one Shaheen Afridi over to really irritate the paceman.
Pakistan quick Mohammad Wasim starred with 3-40, while Rauf (3-39) and Afridi (2-40) were also crucial in the demolition job.
It was a far cry from Australia’s batting displays in the first two matches, when the visitors posted totals of 7-313 and 8-348. Finch’s struggles with the bat are a concern as Australia build towards the 2023 50-over World Cup. The 35-year-old entered the current series having not played an ODI match since December, 2020. Finch scored 23 off 36 balls in the series opener against Pakistan, but he has been trapped lbw for ducks in games two and three. It marks the first time in his 228-match international career spanning five Tests, 135 ODIs, and 88 T20s that Finch has posted consecutive ducks.