Two teams doing their thing. Pakistan teasing, taunting, charming, and eventually disappointing and Australia hanging on before they found a way through. Pakistan threatened to implode in the chase of 308 and even as the fans vented in the stands, they suddenly cracked open the game with two unlikely hands, Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali, bowlers who could bat, but collapsed again, as target came within grasp.
It was a battle of stereotypes in some ways, and both teams revelled in throwing up the tropes before Australia prevailed. As they usually do. One stereotype had to win on the day, and the Australian’s won.
What would this Pakistan team do when faced with Australia whose bowling remains a real worry when Mitchell Starc or Pat Cummins don’t have the ball? They mess up. Who hits a full toss from Aaron Finch straight to deep midwicket fielder? Mohammad Hafeez did it. Yet again, the “professor” played a splendid hand, soaking up the early loss of Fakhar Zaman, guiding Imam-ul-Haq, and looking real good when he combusted in surprise. He didn’t know what to do with the full toss and swatted it straight to the fielder. It was 146 for 4 in the 27th over and had come immediately after Imam’s wicket.
Autralia bowled further up than Pakistan did, but Imam stunned them with skilful driving and precise footwork. Until Cummins returned in the 24th over. The pressure on Cummins and Starc is quite something. Need to stop the runs? Call one of them. Need to take wickets? Dial them again.
But incredibly, both are ready and waiting for the captain’s call. In his first over of the second spell, Cummins had six balls at Imam. Nothing short, usually full, in the off-stump corridor mostly, and Imam was beaten a couple of times. He then produces a bouncer first ball of next over. It was going down the leg side but Imam caught up with an attempted pull, feathering a catch to Alex Carey, the wicketkeeper.
Next over, Cummins came up with a crafty nip-backer that startled Malik into a defensive prod and the ball deflected off the inner edge but Carey plucked a fabulous left-handed catch. “Lost three wickets in 15 balls from 140/3. To win matches, top four has to perform. Made runs but couldn’t convert,” Sarfraz Ahmed would later state the obvious.
But Pakistan don’t do the obvious. So, they attempt a heist to retrieve after losing the keys. Make situation difficult, almost hopeless, and then heroically breathe life back into it.
It was 160 for 6 at one point but Hasan Ali threw his bat around, once again showing up the Australians’ bowling. Finch’s hands are mostly at his hips when his two best bowlers aren’t bowling. Nathan Coulter-Nile, it seems, can’t be dispossessed of his self-image of an express fast bowler who likes to bang it in short. Especially, as it gives him the odd wicket, like Babar Azam, who charmed in a classy cameo of 30, but fell hooking a ball at his head to fine-leg. Australia’s other bowler Kane Richardson also was ineffective and Ali blasted him for a couple of sixes, a treatment he meted out to Maxwell as well. Like Coulter-Nile, Richardson’s go-to ball under pressure seems to be the short one but Ali too top-edged a pull and that was that. Or so it seemed at 200 for 7.
Wahab Riaz, though, was in the mood. He had bowled well, repeatedly getting the ball to kick up, but Asif Ali had dropped two chances – reprieving Finch and Warner, and by the end, Riaz was kicking the ground in frustration. So, he decided to write his own script, almost pulling off a memorable win. He didn’t just swing his bat around but actually crafted out a possible escape route out of the mess. Along with Sarfraz, he played out four overs (two apiece) from Cummins and Starc from the 36th over onwards. Then he took his chances against Maxwell and Richardson, slugging them for a few sixes, before Starc intervened. Again.
Starc had three overs at this point when he came in the 43rd over. Wise Riaz played the first quietly. Then came the typical Australian moment in the next over. Starc bends his back, the ball leaps off a tired pitch and Riaz pokes. The keeper collects. It should have been the end of the story but of course there is a twist. Steve Smith, at backward point, almost insists that they go for the DRS and of course, the snickometer comes alive when the ball passes the bat. In the same over, off the last ball, he fires the yorker, and it seems a full toss for three-fourths of its journey but swerves a touch, collides with Mohammad Amir’s inside edge and falls on the stumps.
Starc had done it again. Australia have done it again. And Pakistan have done it again. A day of stereotypes.