COMMENT: Heartbroken and bewildered, Pakistan lose by small margin

Published November 12, 2021
DUBAI: Shaheen Afridi reacts as Australia’s Matthew Wade (left) and Marcus Stoinis celebrate their win in the Twenty20 World Cup semi-final match on Thursday. — AP
DUBAI: Shaheen Afridi reacts as Australia’s Matthew Wade (left) and Marcus Stoinis celebrate their win in the Twenty20 World Cup semi-final match on Thursday. — AP

AUSTRALIA destroyed Pakistan’s hopes in a thrilling heavyweight contest in Dubai. Pakistan played their part, and showed why they have come so far in this tournament, but the bowling wasn’t quite at its best and that was enough to give Australia sight of victory.

It was a painful defeat for Babar Azam’s team who looked invincible in this World T20, but the result proved once again that the team that peaks at the right time is the one that lifts the world cup.

Pakistan can take many positives from this year’s competition, but there will be scrutiny on the pace bowlers that back up Shaheen Shah Afridi and on the players that must now replace Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.

The match came down to 22 runs off two overs, and with Afridi to bowl his Pakistan were justifiably hopeful. Afridi’s first over had been sensational, and he began his final one in command. Two wickets might have come from two balls. And, then, with Australia under pressure, Matthew Wade slogged one to midwicket where Hasan Ali ran in to redeem his ordinary bowling effort.

But Hasan misjudged the ball, coming in with hope but failing to deliver, a microcosm of how the tournament played out for Pakistan’s all-rounder. Wade, an unlikely hero, was emboldened and scooped and swiped Afridi for three consecutive sixes to take Australia into the final. Pakistani hearts filling Dubai’s stadium were broken and bewildered.

Earlier, Shadab Khan had cast a spell, conjuring figures of 4 for 26. To bowl at that pace takes courage, to bowl with such accuracy takes high skill, to do this against Australia in a world semi-final takes a special player. And Shadab’s run of form in the tournament shows that he is now that special player, the influencer that all of Pakistan wants him to be.

But Warner held the match in his hands, playing at a level that was making mere mortals of his teammates and the opposition. Pakistan’s hopes were in grave danger, except that Warner had lost partners at regular intervals and Pakistan knew that Warner’s wicket would turn the match.

And it was in this moment, with Warner all powerful, Pakistan nervous, that Shadab floated a ball wide of Warner’s off stump. Warner had no hesitation, he launched another big shot. Without hesitation, Rizwan and Shadab leapt for the catch. Without hesitation, Warner hung his head and left the field, as Pakistan celebrated around him and the crowd rejoiced in delirium. Replays showed that Warner had missed the ball.

But Australia weren’t defeated. Marcus Stoinis, a big brutal hitter, took up the cudgels. Pakistani minds went back to the World T20 semi-final of 2012, when Michael Hussey undid Pakistan’s charge with a heartbreaking onslaught against Saeed Ajmal. In the horror of the climax, Wade became Hussey and Afridi became Ajmal.

The batting had given Pakistan hope. Fakhar Zaman, a sleeping tiger, stirred in the middle of Pakistan’s biggest hunt, just when the prey was elusive. First, he helped overcome the loss of Babar Azam at his fluent best. Next, whenever the innings seemed to run out of breath, Fakhar sucked in oxygen before launching one of his bottom-handed missiles. Then, and most sweetly, as his team were squandering the last two overs, Fakhar crouched low and deep in his crease to pounce for successive sixes. That final burst sent Pakistan into the interval with a bounce in their strides and a winning total to defend.

It wasn’t to be, and Australia were too strong on the day. Pakistan didn’t do much wrong. They posted a defendable total. They fielded brilliantly, except for Hasan’s drop. Shadab’s bowling was world class, as was much of Afridi’s. But, as a collective, the bowlers weren’t quite on top of their game, on the precise lines and lengths, at the consistency that has made Pakistan such a formidable force. And that was enough; that’s how small the margins are in the shortest format at the highest level.

Pakistan had a brilliant World T20 campaign, a surprisingly uplifting journey. But on the day that the bowlers were less than brilliant, the crown slipped from their grasp. Babar Azam’s team has brought joy, pride, and, in the end, it has delivered that most addictive drug: the pain of regret.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2021

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