“Pakistan went from a position of a challenge to complete submission with patches of individual brilliance dotting their batting scene”

Opportunities came. Hopes were raised. Yet the end result was despair. This was the story of Pakistan against Australia who trumped their Asian opponents by a margin of 41 runs in the 17th match of the World Cup season. The final scoreline may suggest that it was all easy-peasy for the Kangaroos but, in reality, Pakistan’s patchy brilliance ensured that their opponents had to work hard to snatch the two crucial points on offer from the game. Here, we have a lowdown on how Pakistan coped and succumbed under the big-match pressure-

Pakistani bowlers mess their lines to let Australian openers off the hook

The Somerset County Ground in Taunton offered what seemed like a damp strip amidst an overcast setup, conditions which prompted Sarfaraz Ahmed to opt for bowling after winning the coin flip. Mohammad Amir, who is writing a comeback story of sorts, was brilliant first-up but the others were only mediocre in their skill execution.

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Amir kept his line and length into the channel outside off, using the lateral movement skills brilliantly to trouble both David Warner and Aaron Finch, but others were guilty of bowling too short on a deck which required the length of the ball hitting the top-of-the-stumps.

Also read: A Trent Bridge classic and a Pakistani redemption

Their bowlers weren’t helped by the mediocre fielding of their teammates as Asif Ali dropped a regulation slip catch of Finch when the Australian total had just crossed the 60-run mark. Ali was the culprit of another dropped catch later in the inning when he dropped a sitter from David Warner again at the bowling of Wahab Riaz.

According to a Cricviz stat, Pakistan are the only side in the competition having a negative fielding impact (more runs conceded than saved) so far in the tournament. Poor bowling and fielding ensured that Australia were very well-placed at 223/2 in the 34th over – just the platform needed for a mighty finish.

An inspired spell from Amir, greater rewards for Pakistan

When the 34th over of the Australian inning was underway, it looked as if Australia are well-set for a 350+ finish. It seemed that it would be an achievement of sorts if Pakistan were able to restrict the Kangaroos under 330 but even for that to happen they needed some inspiration to roar back into the game and the 19-year-old Shaheen Afridi provided just that when he sent the timber work behind Glenn Maxwell for a cartwheeling drive in the 34th over. Soon, Afridi backed it up with the prized wicket of the centurion David Warner whose wicket, in the hindsight, seems to have opened the floodgates for Pakistan.

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Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja were accounted for by Amir’s brilliance after they had got their eye in while Nathan Coulter-Nile and Pat Cummins were done in by Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali respectively. Amir came on to finish his spell in what was the penultimate over of the Australian inning and dealt a double blow of Alex Carey and Mitchell Starc to complete a landslide of massive proportions for Australia who had just been bowled out for 307 runs, a far cry from the perceived 350+ score.

Pakistani batsmen raise hopes but Kangaroos too quick to quash them

Even if Pakistan managed to take the last 8 Australian wickets for just 84 runs, it still needed a gallant batting effort to hunt down the 308-run target against the quality of Starc, Cummins, Coulter-Nile, and Kane Richardson and Cummins was quick to prove this point when he had Fakhar Zaman caught at the third man fence (Kane Richardson) to give an early jolt to the Pakistani inning in the third over itself. Babar Azam (30 off 28 balls) and Imam-ul-Haq (53 off 75 balls) steadied the Pakistani ship as they pulled out some eye-catching drives and swats to notch-up the first fifty of the Pakistani scorecard.

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It was a Coulter-Nile bumper which finally got the better of Azam who couldn’t control his hook shot and ended up handing an easy catch to Richardson at the fine leg boundary. Mohammad Hafeez (46 off 49 balls) combined with Imam to stitch together an 80-run stand but the partnership could never flourish freely as the Aussie bowlers were having Imam under a tight stranglehold and when he tried to break himself free, he was caught behind off the bowling of Cummins. Hafeez got out to a full-toss from Aaron Finch which he hit straight into the hands of Starc in the deep while Shoaib Malik’s wicket was pure brilliance from Alex Carey’s gloves.

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With Pakistan reeling at 6 down for 160 in the 30th over, it seemed that all could be over soon for Pakistan but a determined Hasan Ali (32 off just 15 balls) launched a brilliant counter-attack which gave a glimmer of hope to the dying spirits of the Pakistani fans. His counterpunch couldn’t last beyond the 34th over when he top-edged a lifting delivery from Richardson into the hands of Usman Khawaja. Another ray of hope came from Wahab Riaz who smashed 45 runs from 39 balls to take Pakistan into the touching distance of the victory.

Pakistan fail to get past the Starc threat

With Wahab and Sarfaraz well set at the score of 264, with further 44 runs required from last 6 overs, it seemed that the duo will do the task with their carefully executed nurdling. In the middle of nowhere came the second delivery of the 45th over and all looked gloomy yet again for Pakistan. A successful review was called for by Finch on the appeal of Starc and wicket-keeper Carey who had heard the faintest of the tickles as the ball passed the poking willow of Riaz. Mohammad Amir joined hands with Sarfaraz, but his resistance could last only two deliveries as a full booming low full-toss took an inside edge and crashed into the furniture behind Amir. With that wicket, all was officially lost for Pakistan and the stamp of the Australian victory came from Glenn Maxwell who hit the bullseye to wrap up the Pakistani chase inside the 46th over.

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Pakistan went from a position of a challenge to complete submission with patches of individual brilliance dotting their batting scene. They now find themselves on the sixth spot in the points table with 3 points from 4 games while Australia has leapfrogged to the second spot in the table, just behind New Zealand. Pakistan will now face their Asian neighbors India in their next encounter which will not be any less in the difficulty level. They seriously need to buck their spirits up if they fancy any hopes of a playoff finish.

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