April 22, 2009
Start time 2.30pm (10.30GMT)
For a team which has had little international cricket in the recent past the next couple of weeks is a huge opportunity: Pakistan have only played two Tests and six ODIs in the last nine months, but will play five ODIs and a Twenty20 game over the next 16 days against the second-best team in one-day cricket. While that's a significant occasion for Pakistan, it'll also test their preparedness - if they come out rusty, their lack of match practice could be ruthlessly exposed. It'll help, though, that their team is being led Younis Khan, a captain who exudes positive energy and is probably the best man to keep team spirits high in such depressing times.
For Australia, the problem is the opposite: they've played 12 Tests and 18 ODIs in the last nine months, and they have so much more cricket coming up in the next few months that some of their big names have been forced to take a break. Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey and Mitchell Johnson are being rested, while Brett Lee isn't yet fit enough. In Ponting's absence, Michael Clarke will lead a team which has been struggling to assert itself in ODIs lately, losing a couple of series to South Africa and drawing one to New Zealand. The series is also an opportunity for a couple of players to return to the national fold - Andrew Symonds is back in ODIs after a ten-month absence, while Stuart Clark has an opportunity to stake his claim again after recovering from an elbow injury.
There'll be plenty of focus on the venue too: the Dubai Sports City Stadium will become the 172nd venue to host an ODI, and by all accounts the 25,000-seater has impressed both teams. With so much uncertainty over the security situation in Pakistan, a good show here will encourage more games - possibly even Tests - at this ground, which will be good news for Pakistan and for world cricket.
Form guide (last five ODIs, most recent first)
Watch out for
Andrew Symonds: Back in the Australian ODI team for the first time since July 2008, Symonds will be keen to prove he has worked on his attitude and his form, and is ready to perform at the top level again. Strong displays here will strengthen his case for a place in Australia's squad for the World Twenty20, and perhaps even the Ashes.
Shoaib Akhtar: There are plenty of question marks about Shoaib's form and fitness, but his ability to turn it on when fully focused isn't in doubt. The dry conditions in Dubai should help his reverse-swing too.
Pakistan are most likely to play three specialist fast bowlers - Shoaib, Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir - with Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik offering spin support. Nasir Jamshed should be back at the top of the order after missing the last couple of series.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Salman Butt, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Shahid Afridi, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Sohail Tanvir, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Shoaib Akhtar, 11 Saeed Ajmal.
Despite putting together century stands in their last two games in South Africa, Australia are likely to disturb the opening combination of Brad Haddin and Clarke, and instead put Shaun Marsh and Shane Watson at the top of the order. Haddin is likely to drop to No.3, with Clarke in next. With Johnson and Siddle resting and Lee injured, the bowling attack will have some changes too, and Clark might get an early chance to prove his fitness.
Australia (probable) 1 Shaun Marsh, 2 Shane Watson, 3 Brad Haddin (wk), 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Andrew Symonds, 6 David Hussey, 7 Callum Ferguson, 8 Nathan Hauritz, 9 Stuart Clark, 10 Nathan Bracken, 11 Ben Laughlin.
Pitch and conditions
Pakistan aren't playing at home, but conditions at the Dubai Sports City Stadium will probably resemble those in Lahore or Karachi. The heat will be quite acute, and the dry conditions should offer plenty of encouragement for the spinners.
Stats and Trivia
Australia have been in wretched ODI form this year, winning only five matches out of 15, and losing nine.
Nathan Bracken has been one of the below-par performers during this period, with 16 wickets in 14 matches at an average of 39.93 and an economy rate of 5.34.
In 11 ODIs against Australia, Younis has only scored 158 runs at an average of 15.80, with one half-century.
These two teams last played an ODI more than three years ago, during the VB Series in February 2005. Australia won the best-of-three finals 2-0.
"Personally, I'm delighted to be back in Aussie colours - I've had a few decent tussles with Pakistan over the years, my debut in Pakistan for starters, and the 2003 World Cup, and I've no doubt this will be a tough series against them. The challenge is there for all of us to roll up our sleeves and get into it."
Andrew Symonds is glad to be back in the ODI squad
"We've been given a fantastic opportunity to perform and put your hand up while guys are out resting or injured. It gives somebody else an opportunity to push for the 2011 World Cup."
Michael Clarke puts a positive spin to the fact that so many top players are missing from the Australian squad
"There is no alternative to playing at home but unfortunately we have to play in Emirates but the conditions here are similar to Pakistan and we feel it is like a home away from home. I hope Pakistani people who live here will come to encourage us."
Younis Khan tries to make the best of a difficult situation
"I am pleased at Shoaib's discipline both on and off the field. He has shown promise and he is bowling with commitment, and I have lots of hope that he would deliver for us, which, I tell you, is very important."
Intikhab Alam, the Pakistan coach, has high expectations from Shoaib Akhtar