20 March 2015
Riaz’s best not enough to stop all-round Australia
Hazlewood’s four-for and half-centuries from Smith and Watson end Pakistan’s World Cup campaign
Australia raced away to 216 for 4, its six-wicket victory setting up a mouth-watering March 26 date with India.
Standing as the only potent threat between Australia and a place in the semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, Riaz bowled his heart out during a six-over spell of 2 for 24. From Pakistan’s perspective, that was never going to be enough, not after its batsmen had capitulated to 213 all out at the Adelaide Oval on Friday (March 20) evening.
Had Rahat held on to the dolly, Watson would have perished for a 16-ball 4, Australia nosedived to 83 for 4 in the 17th. Alright, there still was a fair amount of batting to come and Steven Smith was batting like a dream, but there is no gainsaying what the pressure of a knockout chase can do to even the best of teams. Had Sohail gobbled up Maxwell, it would have been 154 for 5, more tension. Not to be.
As it turned out, Australia raced away to 216 for 4, its six-wicket victory setting up a mouth-watering March 26 date with India at the SCG and ending the One-Day International careers of Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi.
The fight oozed out of Pakistan as rapidly as the ball spilled out of Rahat’s widely positioned hands as he tried to get under Watson’s offering. Then, spent after having thudded the ball into the pitch and into Watson’s gloves times without number, as Riaz trudged off the park, Australia surged back into the ascendancy.
In the afternoon, after Misbah had opted to bat, Australia attacked through its battery of quicks, hostile and unrelenting. Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson both topped 150kph, the former swinging the brand new ball and the later getting it to hustle off the deck. Josh Hazlewood justified his inclusion ahead of Pat Cummins with 4 for 35, thoroughly deserved given his metronomic accuracy, and Watson and James Faulkner held up their ends of the deal with aplomb.
Pakistan had only Riaz. At various stages, it appeared as if it might suffice; then came Rahat’s drop, and after that, it was just routine stuff for the four-time champions.
Even though the target was only 214, Australia knew it had a fight on its hands. Warner began with characteristic gusto but Aaron Finch fell in the third over, falling over trying to work Sohail to leg, being trapped palpably in front and needlessly throwing the only available review away.
Australia is fortunate to have Smith in such stunning touch. He began with a whipped four off Sohail, all wrists and timing as he walked across his stumps, then caressed Rahat through the covers off the front foot before rocking back and crashing Sohail through the same region in the following over. Australia had rattled to 44 for 1 after eight, and it was Riaz time, which was enthralling while it lasted, leaving a massive audience breathless in anticipation and gasping in admiration. Warner fell on the upper cut, Clarke taking his eyes off a lifter and popping a catch to short leg. Watson was given a torrid time, and only Smith negotiated him with any comfort or authority.
Once Riaz was off the attack, Australia could breathe easy. Suddenly, Watson regained his composure and his stroke-making brilliance, and Smith continued to break down doors, his cover driving particularly easy on the eye. Pakistan merely went through the motions, aware that the exit door was springing open.
Ehsan Adil trapped Smith in front against the run of play and Misbah immediately brought Riaz back for another go. It almost paid off but shoddy catching hurt Pakistan for a second time in the day. Watson and a frenetic Maxwell hurtled to the finish line, Australia surging home in a blaze of boundaries with 97 deliveries to spare.
Australia used conventional swing to excellent effect in the afternoon, Starc getting the ball to go both ways at some pace and Hazlewood falling into a ‘hit-the-top-of-off’ rhythm that would have made Glenn McGrath proud. Ahmed Shehzad and Sarfraz Ahmed needed to see out this testing period. Commonsense dictated keeping Starc and Hazlewood at bay early on. Prudence, however, hasn’t always been Pakistan’s ally. Sarfraz pushed distantly at Starc in the fifth over to be well caught by Watson at first slip. In the next over, Shehzad played an even worse stroke, throwing his bat without moving his feet and putting Clarke in business at second slip.
It was crisis time at 24 for 2; Pakistan couldn’t have asked for a better manager than Misbah, the epitome of consistency this tournament. It was up to Misbah and Haris Sohail, the young left-hand batsman who had played a cracking square drive first ball, to repel the Aussie charge. It wasn’t, almost, until lady luck flashed her pearly whites briefly at Misbah.
His second delivery, from Hazlewood, ducked into him, hit the back of his left thigh and clipped leg stump. The stump flashed, the bails flashed, the bails lifted marginally. The bails then settled beautifully back into their grooves. What a let-off! Pakistan could have been 24 for 3, game over. Instead, Misbah lived to fight on, though more good fortune was in store as he drove uncertainly at Johnson’s first ball, and only managed an inside nick that screamed past leg stump.
Australia didn’t fret. It bowled enough short deliveries to keep Pakistan on the back foot, though, to their credit, both Haris and Misbah were generally up to the task. Clarke set attacking fields, sometimes even three slips, and asked Pakistan to do the running, having enough confidence in his bowling group that they would dry up cheap runs.
Misbah seemed to have identified Maxwell as the weakest link in the Australian bowling chain. Twice in the offspinner’s first two overs, he slog-swept him for towering sixes, but Haris suddenly went off the boil, his composure deserting him despite repeated advice and censure from his captain as he sacrificed the sensible for the fancy.
Having briefly taken Maxwell off, Clarke brought him back from the same end in an inspired move that set the cat among the pigeons. With his second comeback delivery, Maxwell elicited a rare top edge to a slog-sweep from Misbah, Finch making good ground to his right from deep mid-wicket to safely get under the ball. There was disbelief at the Oval; had Misbah actually mistimed a slog-sweep?
That disbelief was to give way to stunned silence when Johnson, summoned immediately for a second spell, outthought and hoodwinked Haris a few minutes later. Operating from round the stumps, he got the fullish ball to angle away from the left-hand batsman. Haris was sucked into a drive despite his feet staying rooted to the crease. Brad Haddin completed the formalities as another batsman fell victim to lack of footwork.
Umar Akmal and Afridi flourished all too briefly before both perished in the deep where Finch had a field day. Both played horrible strokes, given the situation. Akmal tonked a Maxwell long hop straight to deep mid-wicket while Afridi kept teeing off at everything until it was one tee too many.
As he kept pressing for wickets, Clarke bowled Johnson out by the 33rd over. He still had fabulous Power Play bowlers and finishers up his sleeve in Starc, Hazlewood and Faulkner, Pakistan only had Sohaib Maqsood and the tail. Riaz was engaged in an entertaining duel with Starc, who kept reminding the batsman to hit the ‘little white thing’. Riaz eventually did – two meaty blows over mid-on. But Australia had far too much quality for the tail to wag furiously, if at all.
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