Australia are 105 for 5 chasing a big total against Pakistan in a T20 World Cup semi-final. Pakistan are firmly in the driver’s seat. Australia keep chipping away at the total, they keep fighting, Pakistan still feel they are ahead of the game and should be able to defend the total. Pakistan’s most reliable bowler is about to bowl the most crucial over of the match, Australia’s left-hander hits him for three sixes in an over to win it for Australia.
Hey Pakistan fans, having a feeling of a deja vu? This is what happened last night when Matthew Wade hit Shaheen Afridi for three sixes in the 19th over, this is also what happened when Michael Hussey hit Saeed Ajmal for three sixes in the 20th over in the 2010 World T20 semi-final.
Let's move on to another time, the entire country is preparing to celebrate, arrangements are being made for a trophy celebration, maybe even a parade across Pakistan. Pakistan’s team is doing splendidly well in the World Cup under its charismatic leader, a cricketer easily among the best of his generation, already established as one of the all-time greats of the game. Pakistan are up against Australia, a team they beat in their previous encounter. This would be the perfect crowning glory for this golden generation and its captain.
Pakistan’s media, Pakistan’s people, everyone expects Pakistan to win, instead, it is Australia inspired by their top ODI wicket-taker of that decade who end up crushing Pakistani dreams. This is what happened in the 1987 ODI World Cup semi-final when Imran Khan’s Pakistan was defeated by a Craig Mcdermott-inspired Australia. This is also what happened in the 1999 World Cup final when Wasim Akram’s Pakistan was defeated by a Shane Warne-inspired Australia.
1987, 1999, 2010, 2021 – A scar for each Pakistani generation courtesy Australia. On each of the four occasions, at least one Australian has put in a preposterous performance, from Mcdermott’s fifer in 1987 to Warne’s magic-web in 1999 to Hussey’s freakish innings in 2010 to Wade’s blinder last night. Just when Pakistan think they have closed the door on Australia, one Aussie breaks the door open. None of those four performances are normal, they are outliers, not trends but over four generations and four heartbreaking World Cup knockout games for Pakistan players and fans they have become the norm.
There is something about Australia in pressure games, especially against Pakistan, something that never gives up, something so out of the ordinary that even Pakistan, the kings of the absurd, can’t deal with. It is not just these four knockout games; it is the Hobart Test in 1999 when Australia were 126/5 chasing almost 370 in the 4th inns, down and out only for a miraculous partnership between Adam Gilchrist and Justin Langer to win them the match. It is the Sydney Test in 2010, when inexplicably Australia managed to defeat Pakistan despite a first innings deficit of 206 runs, thanks to horrendous fielding by Pakistan and unbelievable innings by Hussey. It is the countless other games Pakistan fans and players want to forget.
Come back to last night, Pakistan are the firm favorites. A position Pakistan don’t usually find themselves in, they usually excel amid the chaos with their backs to the wall, not when they are expected to win but this team is different, different in this format at least. They are consistent, so consistent that not long ago they went through 11 T20I series without losing one. Despite all those scars from the past, this generation is relatively baggage-free.
Pakistan have played top-quality cricket throughout the tournament. There are some concerns though, Mohammad Rizwan was in the hospital struggling to breathe the day before the match. Shoaib Malik, who had led Pakistan’s charge against spin, was also down with flu. There is little panic in the Pakistan camp though, firstly because they believe both players will be back and also because they are ready with their replacements just in case, they feel they are ready for anything.
The vibe around this team, this dressing room is utterly different from any Pakistan dressing room of the past. One player calls it, “the best Pakistan dressing room I have been a part of, this team is special.” Something most players maintain even after last night.
Heading into the semi-final, Pakistan are the only unbeaten team in the tournament, Pakistan haven't lost a T20I in UAE since 2016. This team is on an anti-jinx/revenge mission. They played excellent cricket to become the first Pakistan team ever to beat India in a World Cup. Then they won the revenge match vs New Zealand, payback for New Zealand abandoning the Pakistan tour. This team has given the entire country reasons to rejoice.
Pakistan have one of the most economical spin attacks of the tournament in Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim. They have Shaheen Afridi in sensational form with Haris Rauf spitting fire at 150KPH and Hasan Ali, who was due a performance, in their pace attack. Pakistan have the most reliable opening partnership of the tournament in Babar and Rizwan, at No 3 they have Fakhar Zaman who almost never fails in big games. In the middle-order, Pakistan have the most experience with Mohammad Hafeez and Malik and to top it all Pakistan have the best power-hitter and finisher of the tournament in Asif Ali.
Pakistan had everything, everything but a scar from Australia for the latest generation, they have it now, it's complete and with that so is Pakistan’s journey at the 2021 T20 Men’s World Cup.
Rehan Ulhaq is sports management professional who currently serves as General Manager of PSL team Islamabad United.
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