In the shortest format, narratives can change in a few overs. Until the 19th over during Australia’s chase of 177 for victory, it was about why David Warner didn’t review his caught behind decision, an error that almost cost the Australians a place in the T20 World Cup final. Soon it changed to Hasan Ali dropping the catch and the match.
After Warner’s dismissal followed by Glenn Maxwell’s departure, Australia were reeling at 96/5 in the 13th over. It was Pakistan’s game to lose. But Australia loaded their team with all-rounders and in the end, it proved to be the difference.
After losing the T20I series in Bangladesh, Matthew Wade, Australia’s captain in that series, demanded bravery from his teammates. Here he was bravery personified. At the other end, Marcus Stoinis, brilliantly paced his innings. The duo had a simple plan, taking the game deep before launching an assault.
Around Shaheen Shah Afridi and Shadab Khan, Pakistan bowling had many weak links that got exposed on a flat pitch. But the equation was still pretty steep for Australia, when Afridi came on to bowl the penultimate over.
Wade had to swing, but he toe-ended his slog towards deep mid-wicket. Hasan overran the ball and dropped the catch. The next three balls yielded three sixes from Wade, making Hasan guilt-ridden on the back of his 0/44 in four overs.
At mid-off, Imad Wasim was in tears. At the far end, Hasan was throwing up at the ground. Maybe, he wasn’t well. Pakistan came into the semifinal with some health concerns, Mohammad Rizwan’s case being the worst, turning up to play for his country after spending two nights at the ICU with flu-like symptoms. A half-century, opening the innings, spoke volumes for his character.
Just one dropped catch and three hittable balls at the death put an end to Pakistan’s superb World Cup campaign. Afridi, who had given away just 14 runs in his previous three overs, conceded 21 runs in his final over.
Yet again, Australia turned out to be their nemesis. The men from Down Under marched ahead to set up a trans-Tasman final on Sunday. Once in knockouts, they are a different kettle of fish.
Much to Warner’s relief, Wade and Stoinis spared his blushes. After Pakistan had posted 176/4, Australia’s response was always going to be Warner-heavy and as long as the opener was there, his team was staying ahead of Pakistan on comparative scores.
Warner was batting beautifully and getting beaten to that Shadab Khan delivery after the drinks break felt like an aberration. Rizwan started his celebratory run as soon as he grabbed the ball behind the stumps. Shadab joined him. Warner stood for a while before starting his walk back to the dug-out. Snickometer showed no spike and the on-field umpire had to reverse his decision if the southpaw had opted for a review.
It could have been the determining factor in the game. Australia had a close shave.
Pakistan bring colour to a cricket match. Their players play emotional cricket. The electric atmosphere at the Dubai International Stadium for the second semifinal made even a cool customer like Babar Azam to do almost a Virat Kohli, the way he yelled, jumped and fist-pumped.
Afridi had his customary wicket upfront, through a deadly inswinger that removed Aaron Finch for a golden duck. But Warner wisely played out Afridi’s first spell, attacked Wasim at the other end and got Mitchell Marsh for company. Together they took the attack to the opposition, silencing the crowd and making the Pakistan skipper edgy.
Despite Warner’s presence at the crease, Babar chose Shadab. He badly needed a breakthrough. Marsh brought about his own downfall, failing to put away a long-hop outside the off stump and resorting to a slog next ball. The ball rose to the height of a Dubai skyscraper, Babar constantly yelling and egging on Asif Ali to catch it. The catch was taken and the captain was over the moon.
Australia made a tactical error, sending an out-of-form Steve Smith ahead of Maxwell. Smith’s wicket was a matter of time and Shadab put him out of his misery. And following Warner’s scalp, the leggie accounted for Maxwell in his next over to return with 4/26.
Earlier, Babar was imperious with the bat at the outset and on antibiotics, Rizwan aided his skipper very well. A lot of fluid intake was the antidote and the ‘keeper-batsman went on to score a courageous 52-ball 67. Fakhar Zaman, under the scanner for his indifferent form in the lead-up to the semifinal, chose the big game to score a blazing 32-ball 55. The way he went deep into the crease and converted the good length deliveries to hittable ones was very impressive.
Australia’s fast bowlers, barring Mitchell Starc to some extent, were profligate with their line and length. Yet again, they needed Adam Zampa to pull things back. With 12 wickets from six matches and an economy rate of less than six runs per over, the leg-spinner is in the running to become the player of the tournament.
Brief Scores: Pakistan: 176 for 4 wickets in 20 overs (Mohammad Rizwan 67, Fakhar Zaman 55 not out; Mitchell Starc 2/38)lost to Australia: 177 for 5 in 19 overs (David Warner 49, Matthew Wade 41 not out, Marcus Stoinis 40 not out; Shadab Khan 4/26).