Jittery Australia advance leaving India to contemplate what went wrong
Group A of the Champions Trophy came to a close yesterday with the first photo-finish of the competition as nervy Australia reached their target of 206 against Pakistan off the final ball with only two wickets remaining. The Aussies had been coasting at 140/2 with over 18 overs to go before Ricky Ponting’s dismissal precipitated a collapse to 187/8. It took a gritty ninth wicket partnership between Brett Lee and Nathan Hauritz to see Australia over the line.
This thrilling victory secured Australia’s passage to the semi-finals as Group A winners where they will have an early chance to reacquaint themselves with England at Centurion on Friday following their 6-1 cakewalk in the recent Nat West series in the mother country. Pakistan, who had already qualified before yesterday’s game, will play New Zealand in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Meanwhile India managed to get a consolation victory in a comfortable but ultimately dead rubber seven wicket triumph over the West Indies Cricket Board XI, which included a wicket for their captain and wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Following their disappointing defence of their World T20 crown earlier this year, this proved to be another poor tournament for the Indians. No doubt the inquests are starting already.
Nevertheless, if it hadn’t been for the stoical stand by Lee and Hauritz, India could have squeezed into the semi-finals by the back door. The Ashes series proved that Australia are prone to batting collapses and yesterday saw another example of what must becoming a worrying trend for Ponting. When Ponting and Mike Hussey, top scorer with 64, were together Australia were making serene progress to their undaunting target. This followed the good start provided by Shane Watson (24) – finally getting his first runs of the tournament, and the impressive Tim Paine (29).
Ponting and Hussey’s stand had reached 81 when the Australian skipper was caught off a slog sweep from Shoaib Malik by Umar Gul running in from deep square leg for 32. This left Australia needing only 66 from just under 19 overs – not a particularly difficult task one would think. But Pakistan had seen a small crack and raised their intensity levels to try and exploit it. First Callum Ferguson (7) was bowled by a quicker ball from the excellent Saeed Ajmal, who finished with 2/31 from his 10 overs.
Then as Australian nerves increased and the run rate slowed three wickets in seven balls threatened a complete turnaround. Hussey was bowled by an inswinging yorker from Naved-ul-Hasan, and then the recalled Mohammad Asif had James Hopes caught by Younis Khan at mid off before bowling Cameron White with a clever off-cutter. Suddenly Australia, were 176/7 and in trouble. Things soon got worse when Mitchell Johnson was bowled – beaten by a top spinner from Ajmal – with Australia now needing 19 runs off only 25 balls.
Luckily for Australia, Hauritz and Lee are both no mugs with the bat and despite excellent bowling by the Pakistani bowlers – Naved bowled a spell of three overs for only one run at the death – they batted steadily to leave five required off the last over from Umar Gul. Gul bowled a fine over and Lee and Hauritz were forced to edge, nudge and scamper for their runs until a panic-run bye off the last ball saw Australia home.
Lee had been instrumental earlier too in restricting Pakistan to what appeared to be an eminently gettable total, taking 1/30 from ten economical overs. None of the Pakistani batsman were able to break free of the shackles placed upon them by the Australian bowlers. This was despite several batsman making reasonable scores with Mohammad Yousuf making 45, Kamran Akmal 44 and Misbah-ul-Haq 41. Along with Lee, Shane Watson was the pick of the bowlers with 2/32 from eight overs.
Over in Johannesburg, India won an important toss and restricted the WICB XI to a paltry 129 all out with Ashish Nehra again the pick of the bowlers with 3/31 along with Praveen Kumar who took 3/22. However, with Australia coasting to victory against Pakistan, Dhoni thought he may as well bowl himself and after handing the gloves to Dinesh Karthik even managed to take a wicket – Travis Dowlin who got an inside edge onto his stumps.
By the time Gautam Gambhir and Karthik went into bat Australia still need six off eight balls and just maybe there was a chance for India to progress in the tournament. Alas for Dhoni and his men this was not the case, and after Gambhir had been bowled by Roach and Rahul Dravid run out by David Bernard, Karthik and Virat Kohli took India to within touching distance of their target. When Karthik went for a stubborn 34, Abishek Nayar joined Kohli, who made an impressive career best 79 not out, to see India over the line.
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