“My job is to get the 17 players who are available and prepare them for the tri-series,” said the newly appointed Zimbabwe coach Lalchand Rajput before the start of the series. Zimbabwe had a tough task ahead in top-ranked Pakistan and second-ranked Australia ahead of them. Rajput had a job on his hands to create a pool of players who were at least “available” for the tri-series, Australia on the other side came into it with multiple setbacks. They had lost captain Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner as the duo along with Cameron Bancroft were banned after the ball-tampering scandal. Further, they were without frontline bowlers Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Pat Cummins. To add to their challenge, Australia were outclassed by England to lose six consecutive matches across the limited overs format.
On Sunday, Australia had a huge opportunity to turn around things for themselves. They were in the final of the series and were facing Pakistan. The Aussie fans, an over into the Pakistan chase, must have thought that their high achieving side is back. After winning the toss, Australia captain Aaron Finch opted to bat and he along with D Arcy Short put a partnership of 95 runs for the opening wicket. Even as wickets fell, Short’s 53-ball 76 and Travis Head’s quick 11-ball 19 helped them post 183/8. The batsmen had done their job and the onus was now on the bowlers and they too responded well. Australia reduced Pakistan to 2/2 in the first over and then removed skipper Sarfraz Ahmed for 28 in the sixth over.
Pakistan were 47/3 and still needed 137 to clinch the series and Shoaib Malik came out to bat at number five. Picking up Sarfraz’s wicket became a curse for Australia and their bowling line up as opener Fakhar Zaman and Malik steadied the ship for Pakistan to put on a stand of 107 for the fourth wicket. Zaman missed out on a well-deserved ton as he was dismissed for 91 by Jhye Richardson but he had done his work till then. Malik eventually remained unbeaten at 43 as Pakistan defeated Australia by 6 wickets to win the tri-series. With the win, Pakistan continue to stay at the top of the T20I rankings while Australia have piled up some more homework for themselves.
They did lose the final but Australia showed some mettle when the new looking side took the guard in the tri-series initially. In the first match of the series that Australia played, they thumped Pakistan by 9 wickets. Later, in the second match, Finch stood up and gave the Aussie fans and spectators a lot to cheer about. The right-hander struck a record-breaking 172 against Zimbabwe only to help his side win the match by a mammoth margin of 100 runs.
For an Australian side that had been struggling both on and off-field, these wins were something to cherish. But their momentum was soon broken. Australia met Pakistan in their third round-robin match of the series and this time the script had turned on its head. They didn’t just lose the match but faced the defeat with a comprehensive margin of 45 runs. Nevertheless, the two previous wins in the tournament had assured them a place in the finals but momentum is a huge term in cricket. And Australia had surely lost it. The in-form batsman Aaron Finch was out of touch.
Australia on Friday were handed over a target of 152 runs by Zimbabwe. They lost openers early in the innings but Travis Head and Glenn Maxwell joined hands to rescue the side from a tricky situation, The left-right batting duo put on 103 for the third wicket. After a long time, Maxwell looked in good touch and he did capitalise on the start as he struck a half-century. Head on the other side just missed the milestone by 2 runs but what came next would be something that Justin Langer and the team management would be worried about.
In a span of 26 runs, Australia lost three wickets and moreover, the target that looked a cakewalk for them till Maxwell and Head were out in the middle suddenly became an uphill task. The match went into the final over where Australia needed 7 in the last 6. Tirpano bowled two wides on the trot to make the equation 5 runs from 6 balls. Marcus Stoinis and Ashton Agar were at the crease and Australia had 5 wickets in hands but it took them five more balls to wrap the game. Stoinis struck a boundary on the penultimate delivery to win the match.
For Zimbabwe, they would have wanted a consolation win but failed to grab it. They can still be happy about the way they faired in this last match against Australia. Coach Rajput might think he has those 15-17 players whom he needs to groom.
Pakistan justify their rankings
Pakistan are the top-ranked team in T20I format and the Sarfraz Ahmed-led team has continued to stay at the helm. They did lose to Australia in the first encounter but came back strong and humbled them by 45 runs in the next round-robin contest. Apart from this, Sarfraz’s men defeated Zimbabwe by 74 runs and by 7 wickets in the two matches respectively.
The side is known for their lethal bowling line up but they have found a new hard-hitting batsman in Asif Ali. His four innings for Pakistan include scores of 41* off 21, 22 off 20, 37* off 18 and 17* off 11. Apart from Ali, opener Fakhar Zaman has led his side to the title win.
Players Australia can still bank on
Aaron Finch failed to score runs in the last couple of matches but he came back and struck a fine 47 off 27 against Pakistan in the final. Moreover, no one can really forget his 172 against Zimbabwe. The Australian side has been running out of fast bowlers as they all are nursing injuries but Andrew Tye and Billy Stanlake have been good in this tournament. Apart from the final match, Tye has been bagging three-for regularly.