Pakistan out, Australia set up shootout with India

Mohali hosted the day's opening WT20 clash - and Australia will be back there on Sunday
Mohali hosted the day's opening WT20 clash - and Australia will be back there on Sunday
©Chetan Narula / Cricket World
 

Australia beat Pakistan in Mohali to set up a virtual quarter-final with India for the second semi-final spot from Group Two of the ICC World T20. That game takes place in Mohali on Sunday.

An eye on the run-rate

Australia went into this game fully in control of their destiny, knowing well that they had two matches in hand as compared to the one each for Pakistan and India. As such, they could do enough over the course of Friday and Sunday to outwit both these sides, even if it is easier said than done.

Their first order of business was getting the run-rate right, in case they lost to Pakistan and beat India to get into a three-way tie of four points each. As such, Usman Khawaja (21) and Aaron Finch (15) provided a brisk start, the latter restored to his opening slot. The Pakistan pacers, Mohammad Amir (0-39) and Mohammad Sami (0-53) were off colour, and it wasn’t until the introduction of Wahab Riaz (2-35) that some sanity was restored.

He bowled Khawaja, who was looking in control of proceedings and then sent David Warner (9) back cheaply as well. The introduction of left-arm spinner Imad Wasim (2-31) trapped Finch, and suddenly Australia were looking in trouble, like they have for most of the tournament.

That is when Steve Smith arrived on the scene and rose to the occasion. The Australian skipper, ranked as one of the world’s best batsmen today, showed why he is rated so highly. He smacked 61 not out off 43 balls, inclusive of seven fours, but look past his statistics. His greater contribution was in rectifying the Australian innings as they reached 77 for three at the halfway mark.

And then, he accelerated in the second half of the innings, supported ably by the big hitting Glenn Maxwell (30 off 18 balls) and Shane Watson (44 not out off 21 balls). Smith added 62 runs with the former, but it was the 74-run partnership with the latter, that really knocked out Pakistan, as they had no control over the runs conceded in the death overs.

58 runs came in the last four overs, with 116 for one the total in the second half of the innings as Pakistan were set a tall order to stay in the tournament.

A stuttering innings that stopped

For a second innings in a row, Sharjeel Khan (30 off 19 balls) provided the perfect start to his team’s innings. At the same time, again, for a second time in a row, Ahmed Shehzad (1) disappointed. Khalid Latif (46 off 41 balls) looked a lot more comfortable at the crease this time around and with Sharjeel, he helped take the innings forward.

They were a study in contrast while together at the crease, with the former doing the hitting work, while the latter biding his time. For a short while, Pakistan might even have entertained the thought of actually chasing down this huge total and making a case for themselves to go ahead. All that changed when James Faulkner (5-27) bowled Sharjeel in the sixth over.

From there onwards, Pakistan’s innings unraveled in a predictable manner. Umar Akmal (32) added 45 runs with Latif to raise hopes of a fight back, before falling tamely to Adam Zampa (2-32). Shahid Afridi (14) went boom-boom twice in what could be his last innings, before he was stumped too.

When Latif was bowled in the 18th over, again by Faulkner, and Pakistan were yet to reach the 150-run mark. Shoaib Malik (40 not out off 20 balls, two fours, two sixes) threw his bat, but his late charge went in vain as Faulkner cleaned up the lower order.

What This Means

Curtains for Afridi perhaps, for he is expected to return to Pakistan and announce his retirement from international cricket. Or, he could yet make another U-turn. Either way the entertainment will continue.

But at the same time, this team needs to look at itself in the mirror and ask what the way forward is. They have looked a shadow of past mercurial sides from their country. The edge was missing, the sense of adventure didn’t appear once.

Coach Waqar Younis is expected to stand down, but his advice of taking a hard look at the domestic structure to stop this slow decline shouldn’t go unheeded.

Australia meanwhile live to fight another day. While you couldn't say that they are slowly gathering pace, but this was a comfortable win barring the mini-collapse earlier in their innings. Even so, they managed to cut down errors from the rest of the game, and will face an Indian side that has made a few of their own. Two sides, struggling to get out of a rut, and so, it will be a cracking game on Sunday evening.

© Cricket World 2016