MOHALI: A playoff for a semi-final spot at the World Twenty20 championship awaits Australia against India on Sunday after they eliminated Pakistan in a high-scoring affair this morning (Friday) led by a stirring half-century by captain Steve Smith.
Australia’s batsmen finally clicked on a good wicket in the Punjab capital and prevailed by 21 runs despite a theatrical pursuit fronted by Khalid Latif (46 from 41 balls), Umar Akmal (32 from 20) and briefly, in likely his final international innings, Shahid Afridi.
Smith’s unbeaten 61 from 43 deliveries, accompanied by superb pinch-hitting from soon-to-retire Shane Watson (44 from 21), drove Australia to an imposing 4-193 before leg-spinner Adam Zampa (2-32) continued his fine tournament by putting the brakes on the chase with the key wickets of Akmal and Afridi as they were heating up. James Faulkner’s haul of 5-27 – career-best figures – also helped guide Australia home.
Friday’s result knocked Pakistan out of the tournament and with New Zealand having already assembled three wins ahead of a final match against Bangladesh to book a place in the last four, Sunday’s clash at the Punjab Cricket Association Ground will be a hugely anticipated straight shootout for the other berth from group two.
“I think that after our start (a first-game defeat to New Zealand last week) it was very disappointing,” said Faulkner, named man of the match a day after he sat out training due to gastro.
“We have a massive game coming up in two days’ time with India here at home. Whoever wins will go through to the finals. We will switch off from today’s game and prepare for two days’ time.
“We had to make progress…if we didn’t make progress we were out of the tournament. It was all on our shoulders to turn the ship around and start winning. We have won two in a row and we need to win another three to win the World Cup.”
A victory target of 194 set by Australia had been inflated by Pakistan’s typical lack of urgency in the field and a series of miss-fields. Even so, for the first time at the World T20 Australia’s batsmen got it right.
With Aaron Finch recalled to open, David Warner shifting above Smith to No.3 and the captain and Watson moving down to four and six respectively, their list appeared its most balanced of this tournament and will surely be the model against India and beyond if they happen to win at the same venue on Sunday.
The middle order had been unconvincing against New Zealand and Bangladesh but that was anything but the case on Friday.
Smith was the anchor, although he certainly didn’t move at a dawdle, and IPL hometown favourite Glenn Maxwell (30 from 18) and Watson provided most of the fireworks, with the veteran all-rounder in particular cutting loose against Muhammad Amir and savaging Muhammad Sami to hammer Australia out of reach.
The match featured a brief reprisal of Watson’s rivalry with Pakistan’s pace talisman Wahab Riaz but it didn’t reach anywhere near the heights of their unforgettable showdown in the World Cup quarter-final in Adelaide last year.
Wahab had instead enjoyed success with the wickets of Usman Khawaja (21 from 16) and Warner, the latter beaten for pace with a 148kmh thunderbolt.
By the time the left-arm quick returned later in the innings Smith and Watson were in full flight. The captain is no stranger to moving across his stumps but took his audacity to a new level in the 18th over, taking guard provocatively so far outside off that all three pegs were visible and then brilliantly flicking Wahab for four behind square.
“We had a massive focus on batting through the middle and obviously here in India it is something you really need to nail – to keep some wickets in the shed for the last four five six overs,” Faulkner said.
“Steve batted exceptionally well today but I am not surprised. I have seen him play T20 over here in the IPL and he does that all the time. He was a class act today.”
Finch, recalled in a reshuffle that saw Mitchell Marsh drop out of the XI, earlier made 15 from 16 before playing around one that skidded on from wily left-armer Imad Wasim.
Later, it was Australia’s spinners Zampa and Maxwell who proved their trumpcards with the ball before Faulkner mopped up at the end.
Pakistan coach Waqar Younis bemoaned his team’s poor fielding, which proved costly.
“We’re the not best fielding side in this tournament. I think that’s one thing I think we have to really dig deep and think about in terms of selecting a team next time,” Waqar said.
“I think that needs to be addressed. When you pick someone you have to really look at the fielding aspect, which I think we lack.”
FAULKNER’S FIVE WICKETS
It’s not often that a five-wicket haul in a game of cricket gets overshadowed completely but as we’ve seen in recent times it’s not quite uncommon in T20 games. The wickets aren’t at a premium. There’s always a chance to pick up some cheap ones when the batsmen are going after everything. It was one such instance today against Pakistan when James Faulkner ended up with one but that wasn’t the story of the day.
Clearly not when the difference was with the batting and fielding of the two sides. But to Faulkner’s credit he did pick up the important wicket of Sharjeel Khan upfront when he was beginning to tee off did make an impact to the final result. But thereafter the wickets just came easily. He himself didn’t make much of the milestone.
“I think in the end I got a little lucky, to get a couple. I’m not too worried about that,” he said on Friday (March 25) referring to the five-wicket haul. He was happier with the overall result that Australia got. “We had to make progress. If we didn’t make progress we were out of the tournament. It was on our shoulders to turn the ship around and start winning. We’ve won two in a row now and need to win another three to win the World Cup.
Faulkner was also full of praise for the batsmen, Shane Watson and Steven Smith in particular, for helping Australia to a total of 193. “It doesn’t really surprise me,” he repeated said of Smith’s innings. “I think Steve batted exceptionally well today. That’s not really surprising. I’ve seen him play in T20 cricket, obviously here in the IPL and he does that all the time. He was a class act today.
“To be honest, Shane Watson’s innings – to come in when he did and to play the shots from ball one was exceptional and the shots he played were pure class.”
The victory also puts Australia in a virtual quarterfinal against hosts India on Sunday. It is a game that Faulkner is looking forward to. Both teams have played each other a number of times in the recent past and will be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each other.
(Australian Herald, cricbuzz.com)