TAUNTON, England: Pakistan pulled themselves towards the wall on Wednesday when they allowed Australia to walk away with a 41-run triumph in their ICC World Cup match here at the County Ground.
Chasing 308 to win after Mohammad Amir’s magical spell of 5-30, Pakistan were well-placed at 136-2 in 25 overs with Imam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Hafeez looking in fine nick.
But in typical Pakistani fashion, the batting line-up imploded as Pakistan lost their next four wickets for just 24 runs with Imam and Hafeez falling to soft dismissals and Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali yet again ending their knocks in disappointing manner.
Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed then tried to rebuild the innings and with Wahab Riaz hitting a 39-ball 45, hopes were rekindled for Pakistan to pull off a miracle under grey Taunton sky.
But Mitchell Starc took two wickets in three balls including the prized scalp of Wahab to make sure that Pakistan won’t claw back in the game.
It was a highly disappointing run-chase for Pakistan who started badly with Fakhar Zaman, falling for nought.
But even worse was the fact that most of their key batsmen got the starts but were unable to convert them into big knocks like David Warner, who hit a 111-ball 107 to propel Australia to 307.
Babar Azam seemed at his brilliant best as he hit seven fours in his 28-ball 30 but fell attempting to pull a short one from Coulter-Nile. Imam, who had done the hard work for his 53, also lost his wicket trying to chase a wide one from Pat Cummins.
Pakistan were truly in the danger zone when Hafeez failed to hit a full toss from Aaron Finch out of the ground and was caught at the boundary line.
Shoaib Malik once again proved to be a bad choice as he fell for zero while Asif Ali failed to redeem himself after dropping two easy catches earlier in the day.
Earlier, Pakistan won the toss and asked Australia to bat as they looked to put them under early pressure.
But things didn’t go in Pakistan’s favour even as Mohammad Amir delivered a career-best spell. The left-armer took 5-30 and was the chief reason why Australia were unable to finish with a flourish despite a great start.
Comeback star Warner finally hit true form as he scored a ton while fellow opener Aaron Finch made 82 to enable Australia post a commanding 307 in freezing conditions.
With 277-4 in 42 overs, the Australians seemed well set for a total of 350 plus. But brilliant bowling in the death overs saw the Aussies losing their last six wickets within a span of 42 balls. They could just add 30 to the total.
Things weren’t like that for Pakistan at the start of the innings.
Despite an impressive first spell from Amir it became quite clear quite early that almost everybody had misread the wicket. It was lively only when it came to looks as it lacked the sort of nip almost everybody expected it had.
Sarfraz Ahmed had no hesitation in bowling first and initially it seemed that Pakistan would soon to be on top as Amir bowled a fiery first over. He continued doing that but young Shaheen Shah Afridi, who replaced leggie Shadab Khan, leaded runs at the other end.
Misreading the wicket wasn’t Pakistan’s only fault. They dropped catches at crucial junctures allowing Australia to take control of the proceedings.
The most costly drop was that of Australian captain Aaron Finch. He came into this game after a prolific showing in the ODI series against Pakistan in the UAE where he amassed 451 runs in five matches at an average of 112.75. He was one of the main dangermen and Pakistan knew they had to get him early. Wahab Riaz thought he had got him but Asif Ali dropped a sitter in the slips. Finch, who was on 26, went on to score 82 from 84 balls as the Australian opening pair built the platform for a big total.
The Aussies were cautious in their start, scoring 56 in the first ten overs. Their game plan was simple. They played Amir with great care and kept scoring at the other end. Afridi’s poor line and length in his first spell didn’t help Pakistan’ cause.
Finch and Warner featured in an opening stand of 146 from 22 overs. Finch was the first to fall as he miscued a shot off Amir in the covers where Mohammad Hafeez took the catch.
Steve Smith didn’t last long as he fell to Hafeez after scoring 10. Glenn Maxwell began with a few fireworks in a 10-ball before getting clean bowled by Afridi.
Warner who was dropped by Asif Ali soon after completing his century finally fell to Afridi in the 38th over after scoring 107 from 111 balls. Wickets kept failing regularly for Australia as Amir’s double strike pegged them back. Wahab Riaz then chipped in with another one but by the 47th over Australia had reached the 300-run mark. Amir returned to finish off the job to make sure that Pakistan sty in the hunt.
He was once again by far Pakistan’s best bowler. He was ably supported by Wahab Riaz. Shaheen made a poor start but redeemed himself with better spells in the later stages of the game. Hafeez was played with disdain by Finch and Maxwell. Malik wasn’t really impressive and together his sloppy display in the field, questions will be asked to why he was playing instead of younger and fitter Shadab. Hasan Ali (1-67) also failed to really make his presence yet again.
Pakistan will now need to regroup quickly for their next game – against India – in Manchester on Sunday. A loss in that game and Pakistan won’t have much cushion left.
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