Ricky Ponting wanted a tough game and got more than he could handle. Pakistan got over the nerve and got over the finishing line in the clash of the big boys. Enthused by the presence of fans, they produced a stirling performance to halt the Australian juggernaut.
Afridi had promised to surprise Australia with an out of box tactics kit. Spin and pace combination with the new ball could have hardly been a jigsaw to challenge Australia to complete, but Umar Gul and Rehman used the unreliability of the pitch to knit a web of suspicion in the batting of Watson and Haddin. Australia started to play the pitch instead of the ball and were caught frozen like a rabbit in front of headlights — waiting for disaster to strike!
Once the in-form openers were removed, it became easier for Pakistan to boss the innings. Afridi was in good form as a leader, maintaining balance between attack and defence. He provided just enough dose of aggression to rough up Australia and also cleverly, in cricketing terms, sat in to let the pitch doctor the mind of the batsmen. His tactics were given credence by his wonderful bowlers who bowled challenging lines to extract everything out of the two-paced track.
There were lot of cross-the-seam balls bowled by Riaz and Gul that exploded and held up off the surface from good length area. Razzaq came to the party as well, and his solid performance with the ball later helped him to lift his temperament in batting. He played a steady hand in what had become a frantic situation.
Australians have problems and lots of them. Their spinners do not have class and, on dry turning pitches, it puts their team at a massive disadvantage and significantly shrinking their chances to win the World Cup. Johnson and Tait can leak runs and on dead pitches can be a dead duck for the batsmen.
Surprisingly, most of their batsmen have been hesitant against spin and have lacked the ability and intent to collar the spinners. It helps when your captain is in form and Ponting’s regular failed lift offs have to have an unsettling effect on the team. To make matters tough they have India to deal with at home, subject to Dhoni’s men beating the West Indies, a price they have to pay for playing scrappy cricket.
Pakistan will take a lot of heart from this big win. It would have helped to clear few cobwebs in the mind regarding Australia as they have had a mental stranglehold over them for a long time. The fact that the run chase was fashioned by two fine young batsmen augurs well for Pakistan batting.
Asad Shafiq was as calm as Buddha, fronting up to lightening pace with aplomb. He was insulated from the chaos that was taking place at the other end simply because of his chosen brief of self belief. Umar Akmal came out with all guns blazing, manhandling the attack in all or nothing approach.
His push prevented Australia from making a come back after a flurry of wickets had gone down.
While Misbah and Asad got out to good deliveries, Afridi imploded with a shot that suggested a brain explosion! He has to give himself time at the crease before he thinks to launch the ball in the orbit. In this WC, his presence at the crease has been as brief as Eid moon sighting.
It is strange that even after finishing at the top of the group, Pakistan cannot play it’s quarter-final in Sri Lanka, which was chosen as it’s home base. What use is it to top the board and turn out winning performances if you can not accrue any advantage out of it?
Having said that, out of the three quarter-final venues, Sri Lanka presents the most difficult challenge to the players in terms of pitches and weather. It will be easier for Pakistan to play in Bangladesh, like it was for us in 1992 WC to play in NZ after roughing out on hard challenging piches in Australia, as conditions are similar there to what we get back home.
Author: Ramiz Raja