ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2019
Australia now have six points and at second spot on the table © Getty
How mercurial can Pakistan be in a tournament? The up and down journey has happened several times in the past, and even in this World Cup when their pitiful batting caused their defeat to West Indies only for them to come back strongly against favourites England. But those were across games. On Wednesday (June 12), the fickle nature of their cricket was on full display across both innings.
It was a mixed-bag effort with the ball and on the field from Pakistan after they opted to bowl. They overcame indiscipline with the ball and mediocrity with their catching to restrict Australia to 307. Riding on a strong 146-run platform provided by Aaron Finch and David Warner, who registered the first century partnership for the opening wicket against Pakistan in a World Cup game since 1996, Australia had crossed the 200-run mark by the time the 32nd over was completed and were looking good for a total in excess of 350. However, Mohammad Amir provided the script for Pakistan’s fightback with a five-wicket haul as Australia lost their last eight wickets for the addition of only 84 runs.
In the run chase, Pakistan were looking comfortably placed at one stage. However, the capricious nature that’s associated with Pakistan’s game reared its head and as a result left them close to the point of no return as they were reduced to 160 for 6. But Pakistan weren’t going down without a fight. The lower order, led by Hassan Ali and Wahab Riaz, fought brilliantly, in the end to no avail as they went down by 41 runs to suffer their second loss in four games.
A 300-plus target, notwithstanding the ease with which it has been achieved in recent times, comes with its own pressure and Pakistan felt that early in the chase. A maiden from Mitchell Starc, who had Imam-ul-Haq all at sea, had its effect on Fakhar Zaman as the latter fell in his attempt to force the pace. Babar Azam played some delightful drives through the cover region for a flurry of boundaries but his confidence conspired against him as he went after a short delivery from Nathan Coulter-Nile only to get a top edge.
However, Pakistan ensured that the wickets didn’t have a retrograde effect on the progression of the chase as Mohammad Hafeez, after a watchful start, found the fence regularly while Imam too contributed his bit, taking toll of the short deliveries that allowed him to free his arms as he brought up a patient half-century. At 136 for 2 at the halfway stage, Pakistan were steadily getting into a a position to call the shots. But it all went downhill in a matter of a few overs as they lost four wickets for 24 runs to be staring down the barrel.
But Pakistan never cease to surprise. A counter-attacking 32 off 15 deliveries from Hassan Ali gave something for the optimists, followed by the knock from Riaz – the manner in which he paced his innings would serve as a good lesson for the batsmen above him. Building the base for a partnership with his skipper, Riaz moved to 12 off 16 deliveries before unleashing his wrath upon the Australian bowlers for a 39-ball 45 that gave Pakistan more than a sniff as the equation dropped to 45 off the last six overs. But, in the end, as Mitchell Starc prevented a remarkable comeback story, what it left Pakistan with was only the ‘what if’ musing – what if the top-order had stayed that extra bit longer, what if Pakistan had been better with the ball and held on to the catches.
Earlier, Amir kept the Australian openers on their toes by going past the outside edge several times. Shaheen Afridi too beat the bat a few times but his inconsistent lines meant that Finch was able to tee away and help Australia off to a solid start. Even as runs were leaking from one end, fielding woes compounded Pakistan’s problems. Asif Ali put down Finch at first slip to deny Riaz a wicket, the Australia captain also survived a leg-before review off the veteran left-arm pacer before being dropped by Sarfaraz Ahmed off Hafeez as he rode his luck and made Pakistan pay with a flurry of hits to and over the fence.
Following the dismissal of Finch, the focus was on Warner and his approach. Like some of his previous innings, Warner was again flying below the radar. Troubled a few times by the seamers and not receiving as much strike as his opening partner, the southpaw registered a 51-ball half-century for his third fifty-plus score in four matches. Having watched a shocking review from Pakistan and seeing the ball go past him several times when Amir was in the middle of a lively spell, Warner didn’t let the situation get the better of him as he took toll of the bowlers from the other end.
A fortuitous edge that went between ‘keeper and first slip, helping Warner to his 15th ODI ton, and a simple catch being put down by Asif Ali off Riaz again, summed up the contrasting day for the batsman and bowler in question. But Pakistan being Pakistan, they came up with a renewed effort by picking up quick wickets, with Amir doing the bulk of the damage. For Australia, Glenn Maxwell’s promotion to No. 4 didn’t yield the desired result, while they also didn’t get the best out of Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja batting down the order, with both failing in their bid to get the big hits going and contributing to Australia’s late collapse.
Brief scores: Australia 307 in 49 overs (David Warner 107, Aaron Finch 82; Mohammad Amir 5-30, Shaheen Afridi 2-70) beat Pakistan 266 in 45.4 overs (Imam-ul-Haq 53, Wahab Riaz 45; Pat Cummins 3-33, Mitchell Starc 2-43) by 41 runs.