Pakistan’s hopes of progressing to the World Cup semi finals were dealt a blow with a 41 run defeat to Australia at Taunton. On an overcast but dry day, Pakistan’s lack of depth in all disciplines was exposed by an efficient performance by one of the tournament’s better teams. Australia have looked organised and self assured in their victories over West Indies and Pakistan. The way the tournament is shaping up, Australia, England, and India are strong favourites to reach the semi-finals, with Pakistan fighting for the remaining spot with New Zealand and the West Indies.
A match meandering to defeat was made a spectacle by the defiance of Pakistan’s lower order. First Hassan Ali and then Wahab Riaz refused to be beaten, launching an exhilarating counter attack against Australia’s rampant bowlers. Pakistan rallied from 160 for 6 to 264 for 7 before Mitchell Starc dismissed Wahab and Mohammad Amir in the 45th over.
In chasing 308, Fakhar Zaman fell early but Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, and Mohammad Hafeez kept Pakistan in the hunt and even threatened victory. But the batsmen were architects of their own doom. Fakhar, Imam, and Babar were caught off short balls, while Hafeez drilled a friendly full toss from Aaron Finch straight into the hands of deep square leg. Pakistan’s over-reliance on the top order is becomes more evident with every game.
The track here offered less steep bounce and life for the fast men than Trent Bridge, but usually when Australia ventured short Pakistan were unequal to the task. The legacy of that collapse against that West Indies is proving hard to shake.
Babar lingered long enough to show his class, stroking Australia’s bowlers effortlessly around Somerset’s home stadium. When this young man is at the crease batting is ridiculously simple, a joyous art form. Meanwhile, both Imam and Hafeez confirmed their powers of adhesion, which was all that was required to keep Pakistan in contention. The modern game is such that team’s can now stroll to three hundred.
But all three batsmen fell to soft dismissals, exposing the weakness in Pakistan’s middle order. Shoaib Malik failed to justify his selection. Asif Ali, sadly, may have returned too soon to international cricket.
Pakistan’s decision to bowl first backfired as Australia posted an opening stand of 145. It was an unhurried effort by the Australian openers. Aaron Finch briefly cut loose against Mohammad Hafeez, while David Warner played himself into form with a controlled hundred.
Misfields and dropped catches helped Australia to their total of 307. Asif Ali was a repeat offender, and his miss at first slip when Finch was on 26 was the most costly. These were mistakes that Pakistan could ill afford since their bowlers were mostly neutralised by Australia’s assured batting.
In general, Pakistan bowled well except for Shaheen Afridi’s opening spell which was too short. He learnt quickly, though, and came back with two wickets, celebrating with a star celebration reminiscent of the other Afridi.
In hindsight, Pakistan’s fifth bowler combination of Malik and Hafeez was Australia’s release valve and Shadab Khan was missed here. One reason for the focus on the fifth bowler is Hassan Ali’s poor form. Pakistan’s exuberant allrounder is separated from his bowling mojo. He is a bowler relying on the good fortune that accompanied the start of his career, having lost both consistency and penetration. None of this takes away from the excellent form of Pakistan’s most experienced pace bowlers. Wahab surprised his critics with a tight first spell, and a mature allround performance. But the star of Pakistan’s show was Amir, who took his first five wicket haul in one day international cricket.
There were two matches being played here at Taunton. One was Amir against Australia, where Pakistan’s fast bowler utterly dominated the opposition. In the other, Australia milked Pakistan’s bowlers without undue risk. Since his return to international cricket following his ban for spot fixing, Amir has rarely seemed right. But this tournament has seen the return of a world class bowler in absolute control of line and left arm angles.
With India on the horizon, Pakistan have not yet abandoned hope but they missed an opportunity at Taunton to be carried by their deeds rather than their dreams.
Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2019