Australia's collective nerves were palpable as Shane Watson’s misguided pull shot was headed straight into the hands of Rahat Ali at long-leg. Watson had only scored four runs and Australia was stuttering at 83-3 against high-voltage bowling from Wahab Riaz. Australia’s highly aggressive middle-order was set to be tested amid the suffocating cauldron of pressure. Suddenly, the most staggering of knockout upsets was a distinct possibility.
Instead, Rahat dropped a sitter. It was the easiest catch imaginable. It was archetypal Pakistan.
The spirited Wahab had battered Watson with a spell of sustained, aggressive, intimidating short-pitched bowling to set up the chance. Former Australian paceman Damien Fleming called it “one of the great World Cup spells”. But the dropped catch eroded Pakistan’s vigour.
Watson and Steve Smith then calmly restored Australia’s confidence. Smith’s assuredness helped stabilise Australia and he is proving the quintessential number three. It is unfathomable that did not start the tournament in that position. Making the most of his good fortune, Watson eventually found his irresistible touch to compile an unbeaten 64 to propel Australia into the semi-final.
Pakistan are the great enigma in world cricket; you can never predict what they will produce. This dangerous unknown always causes some trepidation for the opposition, who fear Pakistan’s madcap talents could come together at any moment. Realistically, Pakistan’s flimsy batting, inexperienced bowling and shoddy fielding was unlikely to threaten a hardened Australian team relishing playing in their home conditions.
But Pakistan’s incredible bowling depth – this lineup was probably their third-string attack – ensured the match was surprisingly competitive.
Australia will be relieved they took care of business and advanced to the semi-final. It was tense at times, but they still won by six wickets with more than 16 overs to spare. The tough encounter should bode well for them heading into a blockbuster semi-final against a rejuvenated India.
Pakistan’s best chances of victory materialised when they won the toss and elected to bat on the normally benign Adelaide Oval pitch. Like most teams, Australia are most vulnerable when they have to chase a hefty total. Batting second under the lights in this World Cup has also proved tougher than setting a target. But Pakistan threw away the initiative with a plethora of whacky strokes to frustrate their fans once again. All of Pakistan’s wickets were caught, including three on the deep mid-wicket boundary. They batted in two rhythms – frenzied attack or stodgy defence. A clear plan was needed but instead little common sense was exhibited and a ruthless Australia capitalised.
Australia unexpectedly plumped for Josh Hazelwood over Pat Cummins and the pressure was on Hazelwood to perform in his opening spell as he struggles later in the innings.
Hazlewood was rewarded for his probing length when Ahmed Shehzad was caught at slip in the sixth over. Two balls later, he clipped Misbah-ul-Haq’s legstump but the bail failed to dislodge. After five overs, Hazelwood, whose consistency and accuracy is somewhat reminiscent of Glenn McGrath, had the impressive figures of 1 for 7.
Hazelwood would come back later in the innings and take three more wickets to finish with 4 for 35. If Australia’s twitchy selectors finally stick with him, he could be relied be an important cog with Australia’s attack falling away slightly after Starc and Mitchell Johnson.
Australia’s lack of a frontline spinner was evident with Glenn Maxwell being introduced early and he was promptly brutalised by Misbah. But Maxwell got his revenge when Misbah mishit another slog sweep to be caught on the boundary. It was a calculated and typically inspired piece of captaincy from the perpetually proactive Michael Clarke. Maxwell picked up another gift when the enigmatic Umar Akmal threw away his wicket.
India’s vaunted line-up will likely fare better than Pakistan’s sluggish batsmen. India have a bevy of players capable of dominating spin, which provides Australia with a quandary. Do they reinstate the struggling Xavier Doherty for the traditionally spin friendly conditions of the SCG? Or stick with their pace trio and hope their mishmash of spin options – Maxwell and Clarke mainly – will be effective.
After scoring a century against England on the opening day of the World Cup, Aaron Finch has only scored 50 runs in his last five matches. The barrel-chested Sohail Khan knocked over Finch, who regrettably reviewed a plumb LBW decision. He made just two runs.
Finch’s position is likely safe because it is probably too late in the tournament for Australia to drastically alter their batting order. Some have suggested Clarke or Watson could open, creating a spot for Cummins or Doherty to come in and strengthen the bowling.
But Australia loves their middle and late-order batting depth because the firepower allows them to post mammoth scores. It’s a formula that has served them well in recent times.
Australia’s evisceration of India during the Tri-Series are is now a mere memory. They will have to play at their very best to defeat India. Both teams are rounding into top form and each contain a slew of match-winners.
The heavyweight battle is set. Australia versus India. A truly memorable semi-final looms.
Updated Date: Mar 20, 2015 18:11:40 IST