AUSSIES SCRAPE THROUGH
Australia 206 for 8 (Hussey 64) beat Pakistan 205 for 6 (Yousuf 45) by two wickets
Yesterday’s game between Australia and Pakistan at the ICC Champions Trophy was a great reason why the ODI format still has some legs. Not only was the game a close one, it was also a contest that provided great contrast and variety. I have written previously about the way in which T20 can flatten out cricket matches; you smash and bash and either win quickly or lose fast. But ODI matches are different. They allow a team to work into a rhythm, and they also allow a team that has started poorly, to find its legs and (in this case almost) snatch victory. I love that. Yes, some may say that the middle overs drag on, but what this period does is allow a team to formulate a new strategy, and try and limit the damage, before implementing a new assault.
This could not be truer than for yesterday’s game. Australia were all over this match until the last 15 over’s of their run chase. Before that they had restricted Pakistan’s usually dynamic batsmen to a paltry 6/205 off the full 50 overs. Mitch Johnson and Shane Watson were both exceptional in their restriction of the Pakistani batters, and took 2 wickets each to boot. Brett Lee also was good with 1/30 off his full ten overs. The Pakistani approach was truly puzzling. Their batsmen just didn’t seem ‘switched on’, perhaps best shown by Younus Khan’s cathartic 18 from 49 deliveries. Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah Ul-Haq and Kamran Akmal all made 40’s, but the Aussie’s always had them under control.
For the first three quarters of the Australian run chase much was the same. Shane Watson and Tim Paine got them off to a good start, and this was backed up by Ponting and Mike Hussey, who seems to finally have remembered how to play the game. But then Pakistan’s ‘Plan B’ came into full effect. Shoaib Malik managed to dismiss Ponting, and then the Pakistani spinners took full control. Shahid Afridi, who has improved his bowling to no end, Saeed Ajmal and Malik were magnificent in pulling the Australians back, and this allowed Mohammed Asif, in his first international in 19 months, to pluck two middle order wickets from the other end. The shift in the game was just so plain to see. Suddenly the Pakistani’s were switched on, and the momentum was fully in their favour. It was then that Rana Naved-ul-Hasan bowled quite possibly the most outstanding three over spell at the climax of a game that I have ever seen. This included two consecutive maidens during the batting power play at the end of the game! He was simply unplayable, but to Pakistan’s detriment, he couldn’t produce a wicket. In the face of great bowling from Rana, Ajmal and Umar Gul, the Aussie’s had to show grit, and Brett Lee and Nathan Hauritz were up to it, finally scurrying the winning run off the last ball of the match.
Pakistan didn’t need to win this match, they were already through to the semi-finals, and they played a noticeably lethargic style of cricket for much of the match. But they had the time, and the guile to turn it around, and almost snatched an astonishing victory. Australia won the game, but to borrow an old cliché, ODI cricket really was the winner on the day.
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