It felt closer than 41 runs. Australia fired on all cylinders at the start, stumbled in the middle, messed up the batting order, got wickets with full tosses, but still managed to scrape a victory. By no means were the regaining champions clinical, but just like they had done against the West Indies last week, they found a way to suffocate, pressurise and choke the opposition to committing mistakes.
It was a performance that resembled the Allan Border team from the '80s or Steve Waugh's warriors from the '90s. It portrayed the desire and fighting spirit that has been instilled into Australian cricket from a young age. If there is one aspect that Justin Langer has taught the players since he took over, it is to fight, scrap and believe. Langer is aware that this mob might not be most talented, but they are still finding ways to win despite having chinks in their armour.
Before the match, Australia had lost all-rounder Marcus Stoinis to injury. It affected team's composition and Finch had to gamble by playing Maxwell as the fifth bowler. Add to that, they were sent into bat on a pitch that had been under covers for two days. It was always going to be tricky. The opening initiation was always going to be the hardest. The ball seamed sideways and Mohammad Amir was landing them on a dime. The odds seemed against them; it was a huge toss to lose.
David Warner would have read about his declining strike-rate and could have easily tried to force the issue. But instead of targeting the experienced Amir, he went after the wayward Shaheen Afridi. Warner has had problems against the right-handers angling the ball across him, but with Pakistan opting for three left-arm pacers, the incoming angle allowed him to hit the ball through the leg-side with relative ease. Unlike the game against India, his head was going towards the ball, the feet were moving swiftly and it enabled him to be closer to the line of the ball. The ball kept moving, but as did Warner's feet. He nudged and deflected, this was unlike him, but this was the Warner Australia needed in Taunton.
It took Pakistan 23 overs to finally dislodge the opening partnership. Australia already had 146 runs on the board. Even Langer, one of the most intense human beings, could have afforded to relax. In the middle was the pair of Warner and Smith. This was an ideal scenario, but amongst all the smoothness, either Warner or Smith had to cut loose.
In an ideal world, it would have been Warner, but Smith was given the license. Uncharacteristically, and rather aimlessly, he tried to smash the ball and lost his shape. There were still 22 overs left, the batsmen in the shed were Glenn Maxwell, Usman Khawaja, and Shaun Marsh. The latter two had been top order players and are not know to finish ODI innings with a flourish. Despite those weaknesses, Maxwell found himself at the crease earlier than Marsh and Khawaja. The ploy didn't work, and all of sudden, Marsh and Khawaja were resurrecting the innings in the death overs.
After the match, Finch stated that his team was guilty of going hard too early. The tactic had resulted in Australia losing seven wickets for 84 runs in a space of 98 balls. Instead of accelerating, they were decelerating. Pakistan had fumbled, dropped catches and bowled poorly, but one tactical lapse and suddenly they had all the momentum during the mid-innings.
The target of 308 on a small ground suddenly seemed under par. But it is such scenarios that bring out the doggedness and the fighting qualities in the Australians. Pat Cummins portrays that spirit more than any player. He bustled in as usual and was once again the pick of the Australian bowlers. He dismissed Fakhar Zaman by having him slice an uppercut to the third man. He got the well-set Imam Ul-Haq with a short ball down the leg-side and darted one back of the seam to get rid of Shoaib Malik. Cummins had put Australia on top, but just like with the bat, Pakistan had fought themselves back to the game and the men in yellow need to get back into the desperation mode.
Pakistan needed 43 runs to win from 36 balls. The situation demanded a brave call by Finch. The Australian captain could have easily decided to hold back Mitchell Starc for his last two overs. But Finch backed his premier quick and it turned to be a masterstroke. Starc picked up two wickets in space of three balls to silence the crowd. It was as if Australia played their best cricket when the situation was against them.
Maxwell then inflicted a direct hit to run-out Sarfaraz and the game was dusted. All the Australians ran in as one, hugged and cheered. They were clinical in patches, appalling at stages, but still managed to secure two points. This was the Australia that has the winning mentality instilled in them which, as Pakistan and West Indies found out, is difficult to crack.