With just 13 players to pick from and two debutants in their XI, Australia surged to an 88-run win in the first ODI against Pakistan thanks to Travis Head’s rapid ton.
Travis Head ended a three-and-a-half-year absence from Australian gold with a starring all-round show to lead an undermanned side to a series-opening one-day international victory over Pakistan in Lahore.
Head shook off a middling Test campaign with a startling onslaught against the white ball, peppering the off-side boundary as he surged to a 70-ball century, the quickest scored in an ODI between the two nations and the second fastest made at the Gaddafi Stadium.
Chasing 314 for victory, Pakistan failed to match their opponents’ fast start and were never in the hunt despite Imam ul-Haq (103 off 96 deliveries) hitting his third hundred against the Aussies this month.
The depleted Australians, left with just 13 players to pick from after COVID-19 and injuries wreaked havoc on their selected squad, were further heartened by the performances of their two debutants who delivered knockout punches with the ball.
Leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson, who became Australian men’s ODI cap No.236 on Tuesday, snaffled the prized scalp of Pakistan captain Babar Azam (57 off 72) lbw before paceman Nathan Ellis, cap No.235, castled Imam with a trademark yorker.
Already without first-choice players like Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Glenn Maxwell and David Warner, Australia had Ashton Agar and Josh Inglis (and their team physio) succumb to COVID, while Mitch Marsh (hip flexor) and Steve Smith (elbow) were both injured in the lead-in to the series.
Adam Zampa stood tall as the side’s most senior bowler, snagging 4-38 from his 10 overs as he became the 18th Australian man to take 100 ODI wickets.
Head, given out lbw in the first over of the game before correctly reviewing, dominated a 114-run first-wicket stand with his skipper Aaron Finch, taking just 32 deliveries to reach his first 50 and then a further 38 to get to his second ODI ton.
It was Head’s first international limited-overs appearance since November 2018.
His stirring comeback was capped by a pair of wickets with his off-spin as Pakistan folded for 225 to hand Australia an 88-run victory.
Head has averaged over 60 in List A cricket since his last one-dayer for Australia but will need to continue to pile on runs in this series for selectors to consider the recent Ashes player of the series as a viable alternative to regular 50-over openers Finch and Warner.
Having reached 2-171 at the halfway point of their innings with first-drop Ben McDermott (55 off 70 for his first ODI half-century) set at the crease, a 350-plus score did not appear out of reach.
But, like it did in the preceding Test series, reverse swing made previously ineffective seam bowlers increasingly potent as the innings wore on, while Pakistan’s spinners, led by debutant Zahid Mahmood (2-50 off 10), also posed a greater threat as the ball softened.
The Aussies went 76 balls without scoring a boundary but finished strongly to surge to 7-313 thanks to Cameron Green (40no off 30), drenched in sweat in the sapping heat, helping to take 35 from the final three overs.
Green then also opened the bowling but it was his new-ball partner Sean Abbott (1-36), back in the side for just his third ODI in the eight years since his debut, who found early success with a clever off-cutter that undid Fakhar Zaman.
Finch’s struggles stood in contrast to his opening partner Head, who blazed 11 off his first 26 balls to or over the fence.
McDermott, playing in his third ODI and first at No.3, should have been run out on 38 when Marnus Labuschagne called for an ill-advised single but, after posting his maiden international half-century, was not as lucky a second time when he was caught short coming back for a third run.
Labuschagne (25 off 35) and Alex Carey (four off as many deliveries) were out in successive overs, while Marcus Stoinis (26 off 42) and Abbott (14 off 9) had their stumps rattled by Haris Rauf (2-44) at the death.
Qantas Tour of Pakistan 2022
First Test: Match drawn
March 12-16: Match drawn
March 21-25: Australia win by 115 runs
Pakistan ODI and T20 squad: Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan, Abdullah Shafique*, Asif Afridi, Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq*, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Haris, Zahid Mahmood, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim, Saud Shakeel*, Shaheen Afridi, Shahnawaz Dahani, Usman Qadir (*ODIs only)
Australia ODI and T20 squad: Aaron Finch (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Ben Dwarshuis, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Ben McDermott, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Adam Zampa
March 29: Australia win by 88 runs
March 31: Second ODI, Lahore
April 2: Third ODI, Lahore
April 5: Only T20I, Lahore