On a slow pitch where application was the keyword, Australia were choked by a disciplined Pakistan bowling and fielding and their own bowling efforts were not quite enough to defend a low total of 176. The result was that Pakistan won by six wickets and topped the standings in Group A. Australia slipped to third position in the group after their first defeat in a World Cup match since 1999. They will now meet the second placed team in Group B which could be India or West Indies.
The Australian skipper Ricky Ponting won the toss and decided to bat first. The decision was influenced by the nature of the wicket which was expected to be slower as the match progressed and also by the fact that more than 60% of the matches at the R Premadasa Stadium was won by the team batting first. Australia retained the same eleven that played against Canada while Pakistan rightly axed the out of sorts Ahmed Shehzad and brought back Umar Akmal.
The bowlers were disciplined right from the start as they gave nothing away. Umar Gul had Shane Watson bowled in the 5th over off a delivery that seamed a bit. Just three boundaries came in the mandatory Powerplay as Australia could muster only 36/1 in the first 10 overs. When Wahab Riaz came on to bowl, Australia attacked and the runs started flowing at a healthy pace. The introduction of spin from both ends proved very hard for Australia to score runs. As the pressure built, Ponting tried to cut a ball from the Mohammad Hafeez but couldn’t go through with that shot and got an edge which was very well taken by wicket keeper Kamran Akmal.
Michael Clarke and Haddin continued stubbornly before Riaz got a ball to bounce more and Haddin, in an attempt to play the ball down to third man, only got an edge which was taken by Akmal. At 90/3, the out of form Cameron White joined Clarke at the crease. Just when the pair looked liked seeing off the phase before the new ball arrived in the 35th over, disaster struck. Where a single was just not there, the batsmen set off and White failed to ground his bat in time before Akmal dislodged the bails.
Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi’s masterstroke was the introduction of Abdul Razzaq in the 35th over with the new ball. He immediately picked the wicket of Clarke who tried to play a pull shot but missed and the ball took the off bails on its way to Kamran Akmal. This started a slide in which the last five wickets fell for the addition of just 42 runs as Australia were bowled out for 176 in the 47th over. All the Pakistan bowlers were among the wickets but Umar Gul and Razzaq were the pick taking 3/30 and 2/8 respectively.
The target was small but Pakistan had to play very well to chase. Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Hafeez started with boundaries but Brett Lee had Hafeez playing at a delivery a little too early and the leading edge was smartly taken by the bowler himself on his follow through. When Kamran Akmal too departed in the 9th over as Lee’s good length delivery struck him on the hind leg, Pakistan were unsure at 45/2. Younis Khan and the impressive Asad Shafiq carried on gamely and slowly built a partnership that would prove decisive in the end. Shafiq scored most of his runs on the leg side as the Australian bowlers strayed.
Brett Lee was brought back for a second spell and the move paid dividends as he had Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq play loose shots outside the off stump and edge to wicket keeper Haddin. Pakistan were 98/4 and in danger of combusting. Umar Akmal was the ideal thing that Pakistan needed and he was aggressive right from the time he arrived at the crease. With Shafiq he carried the score to 139 when Mitchell Johnson switched to a round the wicket attack and had Shafiq glove a catch to Watson at slip off a delivery that bounced more than the batsman expected.
Afridi hit Jason Krejza straight to the fielder at long on in the very next over and Pakistan appeared to be cracking. But Umar Akmal and Abdul Razzaq ensured there would not be any more hiccups on the road to a famous victory. They finally won in the 41st over when Razzaq hit two fours in two balls. Pakistan had topped the group with a great show of discipline and brains.
Australia will be worried about their batsmen’s inability to cope with slow pitches and the spin threat that these pitches pose. The sooner they learn to adapt, the better for them or they will have to say goodbye to the World Cup which they have proudly held for 12 years. Their bowling tonight was not too bad and they were unlucky that Krejza could not pick up more wickets even though he bowled beautifully. It was baffling though why Ponting did not use more spinners when he had Steven Smith and Michael Clarke at his disposal.
Pakistan showed what discipline and a calm approach can do on the slow pitches of the subcontinent. They were flawless throughout the match. Barring the trouble with the top order and a batting wobble in the second half of their chase, they did not have any problems. But Pakistan is Pakistan and one never knows when they will be back to their old inconsistent ways. They need to build on this performance which will be a big confidence booster for the games ahead.