In a fascinating Cricket World Cup encounter in Taunton, Australia defeated Pakistan by 41 runs.
The Aussies dominated with the bat for the first 40 overs. But when they looked set to make over 350, Pakistan fought back in the final powerplay to bowl them all out for 307 in 49 overs.
The momentum continued to swing back in forth throughout. After a good start with the ball by Australia, Pakistan looked like they were set at the 25-over mark of their innings.
Nevertheless, Australia’s bowlers tore through Pakistan’s batting order. And despite some fightbacks, the Aussies wrapped up the victory with four overs to spare.
Pakistan won the toss and decided to bowl first, which made complete sense given the overcast conditions, greentop pitch and a chance of rain.
With their pace attack and the conditions, Pakistan should have had the advantage. But the Australian openers, Aaron Finch and David Warner, dug in deep for the battle.
The pair played sensibly and risk-free and they had the moral victory at the end of the first powerplay, at 56-0.
They saw off the danger from the early overs and looked like they had worked out the Pakistan bowlers as they began to score more freely.
As Australia dominated the next 10 over session also, you would not be blamed for thinking why the Pakistanis had not chosen Shadab Khan, who is an excellent wicket-taking bowler. Pakistan’s bowling attack seemed too one dimensional, and like it was missing variety and control in the middle overs.
Pakistan’s fielding was characterised by poor tactics, dropped catches and misfields. This was not the same team in the field that we witnessed against England.
The ray of sunshine for Pakistan was Mohammed Amir who bowled superbly for all ten of his overs and finished with a five wicket haul, only conceding 30 runs and with two maidens.
It was he who got Pakistan’s first wicket in the 23 over. Aaron Finch (82 runs off 84 balls) went for a big hit, but a leading edge went high up into the air, which Mohammed Hafeez chased down and caught.
At the half-way stage of the innings, Australia were 165-1 from 25 overs, and at this stage it looked like the Australians were building towards a towering total of more than 350.
Captain Steve Smith departed soon after however, being dismissed by Hafeez. Smith tried to play across the line, the leading edge went up into the air and was caught at cover by Asif Ali.
Maxwell was then pushed up the order to continue the onslaught of runs for Australia. He was scoring runs for fun and made a quickfire 20. But looking for the big hits, he was vulnerable to a straight as an arrow ball from Shaheen Afridi, which knocked over his off stump.
It was a better length from Shaheen who was expensive in his first spell, but came to redeem himself with some impressive bowling. And it was the third time that an Australian batsmen got out playing across the line.
Warner celebrated his century by taking off his helmet, running and leaping into the air and kissing the badge on his helmet!
However, shortly after, Warner (107 from 111) fell victim to Shaheen’s second strike, when the Aussie’s miscued shot went sky high and was caught by Imam. With Dil Dil Pakistan blaring around the stadium, Pakistan fans were starting to believe.
The final powerplay was where the first of many fightbacks from Pakistan began. Mohammed Amir was brought back into the attack and took the wicket of Khwaja, who helplessly lofted a slower ball into the arms of Wahab at cover.
Amir then picked his third in the 45th over, as Marsh top-edged one high to Shoaib Malik.
Wahab Riaz was feeling left out so he joined the party for the seventh wicket. Coulter-Nile’s edge behind went like a bullet and Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed flew through the air to take a fantastic catch.
Sarfaraz took another catch behind the stumps, this time from a Cummins edge from a brilliant ball by Hassan Ali.
Mohammed Amir capped off a fantastic performance with two wickets in the 49th over, and in the process bowling out the Aussies, and thereby making it the last of the innings.
First, he trapped Carey out lbw. And then he completed his five-for as Starc was caught by Shoaib for his second catch.
Although that final powerplay was a huge turn around for Pakistan, 308 still looked like a large total to chase down in the face of the fearsome Australian attack.
Cummins bowled a brilliant first over and Mitchell Starc followed with a maiden. Perhaps Fakhar Zaman felt the pressure, as he flayed at a ball which was caught at third man on the thirteenth ball of the innings, leaving Pakistan 2-1.
Babar Azam joined Imam-ul-Haq at the crease and they both resurrected Pakistan’s innings in the first powerplay. After playing conservatively against the opening bowlers, they let their hands go with strokes and built up a half-century partnership.
In the 11th over though, Babar who had played very well for his 30 off 26, fell prematurely was caught out at fine leg from a ball from Coulter-Nile.
We were in store for another momentum swing as Imam and Mohammed Hafeez made a partnership of 82. They played with aggression as well as guile as they built a platform for Pakistan’s innings.
At the half-way point of the innings, Pakistan looked like they were in a really good place. Imam had reached his fifty in the 25th over, and Pakistan were 136-2. Chasing 308, they had wickets in hand, plenty of time to chase down the runs.
However, the very next ball, Imam was out caught behind. Perhaps a result of feeling more confident, he pulled at a short leg-side delivery which he clipped to Carey.
In a slightly unorthodox move, Aaron Finch brought himself into the bowling attack. And it paid dividends. Hafeez, lured into a false sense of security, hit a juicy full toss straight to Starc at fine leg.
The next over, Shoaib Malik fell for a duck. A zipping ball from Cummins took a big inside edge which was gathered behind by Carey. This left Pakistan 147-5, and in just a matter of minutes, the pendulum of momentum had swung again.
In what was starting to feel like a legitimate collapse, wickets continued to fall as the Aussies smelled blood. Asif Ali, usually a dangerous lower-order finisher, edged behind to Carey from a bouncing delivery from Richardson.
While the Pakistanis certainly lack consistency, they can be a resilient bunch. Hassan Ali did not last long but he restored some fight and pride back into the performance.
He made a flashy 32 from 15 balls which included three fours and three sixes. He top edges a short-length ball from Kane Richardson to Khawaja at fine leg, leaving his side 200-7 from 33.5 overs.
Just when Pakistan looked dead and buried, Wahab played a warrior’s innings alongside leader Sarfaraz. With a gutsy and spirited effort, they made an eighth wicket 64-run partnership.
Wahab’s batting was better than his bowling, as he played proper cricket shots to all parts of the field, and he breathed life back into the Pakistan run chase.
But cricket is a game of fine margins, especially in World Cups. The Australians appealed for a caught behind decision against Wahab. It looked like it had missed his bat and bowler Starc was shaking his head and telling his team not to review.
On the replay, it looked like it had missed the bat, and the third umpire agreed as he could be heard saying: “There’s nothing there.” But Ultraedge showed the tiniest of spikes.
It was a cruel way to go for the warrior Wahab, five runs short of his fifty, and effectively the last nail in the coffin for Pakistan.
There was still time for one more piece of World Cup brilliance. After Amir fell to Starc, Pakistan were all out thanks to a magnificent piece of fielding by Maxwell.
Shaheen drove to Maxwell, at short extra cover, who leapt into the air like a basketball player or Aussie Rules ruck man, grabbed the ball with his right hand, and as he landed, flung the ball at the stumps to run out Sarfaraz at the non-striker’s end with a direct hit.
Pakistan showed flashes of brilliance and determination. And they could not be counted out of this match, right until the last ball. But in the end, they were again let down by the inconsistency and their fielding.
It is the same story with Pakistan. They are still capable of beating any team at the World Cup. They could very well beat India in their next game. However, they still continue to disappoint their fans who would surely like them to make it count more often in the big matches.
One thing that was great to see from Pakistan was their will to stay in the game. Whenever it seemed like they were out of the match, they found a way back.
They have never beaten India at a Cricket World Cup. Cricket however, is not about logic. Their match against India on Sunday at Old Trafford, with possibly 1 billion watching, listening and following on the internet, will arguably be the biggest match in all of sport this year.
Australia have quality and depth in abundance, even if they do not have the stars and big names of yesteryear. Anybody who counts this team out of winning the World Cup is very brave.
They have bounced back well after the loss to India. Australia next play Sri Lanka on Saturday at the Oval in a game that they will surely be favourites to win.
Images courtesy of the ICC Cricket World Cup Twitter account