In the last week, two ODI series finished with identical 4-1 scorelines; one was a surprise, the other wasn't. Pakistan, who had done so well to level the Test series 2-2 and take the top spot in the Test rankings, came a cropper in the ODIs, losing each of the first four before managing a consolation win in the last game. Australia, on the other hand, shook off the disappointment of a 3-0 Test drubbing by Sri Lanka - which lost them the No. 1 ranking as well - to turn the tables on the hosts in the ODIs, despite losing the toss and having to chase in tough batting conditions in four matches.
Those results were symptomatic of the ODI fortunes of these two teams over the last 30 months. Pakistan have lost 30 out of 50 completed matches during this period, while Australia have won 41 out of 55. The win-loss ratio of 2.93 for Australia is easily the best among all teams - New Zealand are the only other team with a ratio of more than 2.00 - while Pakistan are languishing in ninth position, with only West Indies and Zimbabwe below them (among teams who have played at least 30 games during this period).
Pakistan's ODI problems have been manifold over the last two and a half years. Their run rate of 5.38 is eighth among the 11 teams, but then batting has traditionally been Pakistan's weaker suit.
What is more surprising is the lacklustre bowling numbers during this period: their economy rate of 5.61 is worse than all teams except Sri Lanka and West Indies, while the bowling average of 38.55 is the worst among these 11 teams. As Ahmer Naqvi pointed out in this piece, it wasn't entirely surprising that they conceded the largest ever ODI total in this series. Over the five matches in England, Pakistan's bowlers averaged 53.59 runs per wicket, and 6.29 runs per over, numbers that are a damning indictment of how ineffective they were throughout the series.
In the five-match series in England, Pakistan struggled to take wickets throughout, and England's deep batting line-up only encouraged them to engage the fourth gear right through the innings. In the first 20 overs of the innings, Pakistan took 12 wickets to England's 16, in the middle overs they managed eight to England's 13, and in the last ten they took seven to England's 11. The middle overs were especially poor for Pakistan. Not only did they fail to take wickets, they also leaked more than a run a ball during this phase.
The first 20 overs have been a problem through the last 30 months for Pakistan. They have averaged 46.37 runs per wicket during this period, while the next highest among the top eight teams is Sri Lanka's 38.10. For a team that has had a tradition of potent pace attacks, this is a definite worry.
A look at the individual bowlers for Pakistan during this period shows the dearth of strike bowlers. Wahab Riaz has been the leading wicket-taker for them during this period, but he has conceded more than 33 runs per wicket, and almost a run a ball. When bowling in the first 20 overs, Wahab has taken only 13 wickets in 128 overs, at an average of 47.23, while Anwar Ali has nine wickets in 80 overs at 47.88.
Mohammad Irfan has done better with the newer ball, taking 24 wickets in 161 overs at 30.29, but overall, the bowling picture is a pretty dismal one for Pakistan. And while Yasir Shah has been a star in Tests, his ODI numbers are fairly ordinary so far. Pakistan have also been badly hit by the unavailability of Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez the bowler, leading to pace and spin numbers that don't inspire confidence - both categories of bowlers average more than 40 during this period.
Australia, on the other hand, have been the dominant bowling team during this period: their average of 27.80 is the best among these 11 teams, and more than ten runs better than Pakistan's 38.55. Australia have bowled teams out in 27 out of 55 completed games, which works out to once every two games. They did it four times in five matches in Sri Lanka, while there have been seven other instances when teams were nine down against them.
Pakistan have only achieved it ten times in 50 games, an average of once every five matches. In five matches in England, Pakistan took only 27 wickets.
Led by Mitchell Starc and ably supported by James Faulkner and Josh Hazlewood, Australia's bowling attack has largely been a wicket-taking one. Starc has been the leading ODI bowler over the last couple of years, with an outstanding strike rate of 25 balls per wicket; in the last ten overs his numbers are even better - 24 wickets at 12.41, and an economy rate of 5.43. The bowling attack is dominated by pace, but Adam Zampa has already made a huge impact in the 12 games he has played, taking 22 wickets at 23.31. While fast bowlers have done most of the bowling, the spinners haven't done badly, taking 93 wickets at 32.66.
Australia's batsmen - led by Steven Smith, Aaron Finch and David Warner - have done the job too, but the bowlers have played a huge role in Australia's outstanding success in the last 30 months. The difference in the bowling attacks of the two teams is arguably the biggest reason why Australia are clearly the best ODI team at the moment and why Pakistan are struggling to even qualify directly for the 2019 World Cup.