ICC World Cup 2019: Australia stoop to conquer as adventurous Pakistan pay the price

Three days before Manchester gets to witness cricket’s biggest match for bragging rights, victory couldn’t have assumed more importance for Pakistan at the Somerset County Ground on Wednesday. For a team about to face India, taking on one that was beaten comprehensively by them was about finding their shape and rebuilding confidence. Australia chucked their trademark aggression for caution but Pakistan couldn’t temper theirs, teasing fans for a while before gifting a match their bowlers toiled to keep within the batsmen’s reach.

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Australia would have to thank David Warner too. He finally achieved against Pakistan what he was striving for in the defeat against India—converting a start even it meant sacrificing his strike rate at its altar. Warner was more defensive, getting as much behind the ball as possible to every delivery and waiting for the loose ones. There weren’t many from Pakistan though. Mohammad Amir went past, over and through Warner’s defence countless times but pluck and luck allowed the opener to tide over that with his 15th century to give Australia the platform needed to build a huge total.

Despite their pedestrian fielding, Pakistan dismissed Australia in 49 overs, leaving them at least 50 runs short of what should have been their desired target. But it was still adequate to overwhelm Pakistan, who lost by 41 runs.

Patience made the difference. A pitch with a smattering of grass was on offer in cold, murky conditions. Tempted by the prospect of bowling out Australia, Pakistan didn’t hesitate to bowl first. However, Australia grittily rode out tough spells from Wahab Riaz and Amir to be placed at a comfortable 191/2 after 30 overs. In comparison, Pakistan were almost thrown off gear by then, precariously placed at 160/6. It was bounce against West Indies. This time, width too played a massive part.

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Just 12 deliveries into Pakistan’s innings, Fakhar Zaman couldn’t resist lashing out at Pat Cummins’s slightly wide back-of-length delivery, producing a thick edge that ballooned to Kane Richardson’s hands at third man. Imam-ul-Haq too fell poking at a Cummins delivery that would have been called wide had it been left alone. Till then, he was motoring along with Mohammad Hafeez, stitching 80 runs in 86 deliveries after Babar Azam—one of Pakistan’s most prolific batsmen of late—couldn’t get on top of Nathan Coulter-Nile’s bouncer.

Hafeez walked into the trap laid by Aaron Finch’s innocuous bowling, hitting a low full toss to Mitchell Starc at deep square-leg. It made the Australia captain’s day better after he had featured in the highest opening partnership of this World Cup. It also meant Pakistan had lost two wickets in two overs, and in dire need of another partnership to resuscitate their chase. But a brilliant catch by wicketkeeper Alex Carey sent Shoaib Malik back without scoring and left captain Sarfaraz Ahmed virtually without a partner who could steady things one end. Riaz possibly vented the frustration of not getting more wickets due to dropped catches, entertaining the crowd with an innings that pushed Pakistan to within 44 runs of victory. But that didn’t turn into the winning thrust.

Only Mitchell Starc and Carey went up in appeal after Riaz fished at a delivery well away from his body. Not entirely convinced, Finch decided virtually at the last second of the review countdown to go upstairs. Video footage sent Pakistan fans into wild celebrations till Ultra Edge showed a slight disturbance and numbed them. Ahmed’s brilliant run out by Glen Maxwell put an end to an exciting chase that should have been anchored by someone at the top, like Warner had done for Australia.

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By featuring in four partnerships against a hostile Pakistan bowling, Warner ensured Australia had something on the board by the time he was caught at deep point off Shaheen Afridi. It started as a restrained innings like against India where Warner had a strike rate of 66, only this time he paced his innings better to reach a century, first since his comeback from the ban. “It was a used wicket against India and they also bowled straight lines,” Warner said later. “Credit to Pakistan though. Their second spells were fantastic and made it hard for us to hit down the ground. You had to be a bit tighter at first since the ball was moving.”

Warner was referring to Amir and Riaz. Swing bowlers have always enjoyed decent success against Australia in the World Cup. Amir, all balance and poise in that smooth run up, complemented Riaz’s plan of roughing up batsmen with his bouncers. In 18 overs, they bowled three maidens and conceded 74 runs. That was the only period Australia looked threatened but Warner provided the calm.

Returning after a brilliant first spell of 4-2-11-0, Amir struck first ball to prise out Finch. He finished with a fifer, but it was essentially his final spell that prevented Australia from cruising to a big score. Three wickets—Shaun Marsh, Carey and Starc—in the space of ten deliveries of that last spell meant Australia were forced to curb their ambition and set Pakistan a chaseable target. All due to a pacer who didn’t even make it to Pakistan’s World Cup probables in the beginning.

First Published:
Jun 12, 2019 22:59 IST

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