LAHORE: Captain Babar Azam smashed his second hundred in a row after pacers choked Australia for runs as Pakistan crushed Australia by nine wickets in the third One-day International to claim the series 2-1 here at the Gaddafi Stadium on Saturday.
After a sensational show of fast bowling by Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf and Mohammad Wasim Jr restricted Australia — put in to bat — to a paltry 210, the chase posed no challenge whatsoever to the hosts.
After all, they came into the match on the back of their record chase in the format — a mammoth 349 runs — in the penultimate clash of the series which saw Babar and Imam post tons, the latter his second in a row.
Imam (89 not out off 100, six fours and a six) did fall short of his third consecutive hundred by just 11 runs in the decider but accompanied Babar (105 not out off 115, 12 fours) to take Pakistan across the finish line with 73 balls to spare, as the duo collaborated for 190 runs after Imam’s opening partner Fakhar Zaman departed early.
Babar had scored just two runs when he was dropped by Travis Head off Jason Behrendorff’s bowling, but the talismanic batter made the most of the luck he was granted early into his innings.
When Babar whacked the pacer past the square-leg boundary four overs later — thanks to a crunching pull shot off the front foot, the Australians must have rued giving him a second chance as the 27-year-old stamped his authority at the crease. Pakistan captain then concluded the over with a fine flick for another boundary as 50 came up for the hosts.
Though Babar’s form and the batting friendly pitch at the iconic venue didn’t really ask for it, Imam was not relenting at the other end.
The in-form southpaw was negotiating Adam Zampa through brisk feet movement and hit him for three boundaries between the 11th and 13th over, just before his friend Babar dispatched Cameron Green’s pace for a signature cover drive and a flick off his pads for boundaries off consecutive balls.
Imam demonstrated his class against pace too when he pulled Sean Abbot for a four to end the 16th over just before Pakistan brought up their hundred.
Pakistan never looked in a hurry as Imam and Babar kept pushing for singles and doubles as the match, and the series, kept slipping out of Australia’s hands. But Babar had to keep showing his class in his hometown, where he hasn’t featured much.
His inside-out, lofted cover drive against Zampa for another boundary kept jaws dropped in the 22nd kept jaws dropped in the stands and at every place where he was being watched.
It was then Imam’s turn to take on Zampa after he had completed his fifty. The young opener jumped down to the pitch off the ball to clear long-on off the wrist-spinner.
What followed were some more signature Babar strokes before he brought up his 16th century.
Had it not been for sheer pace and some merciless reverse swing show by the Pakistan pace battery earlier, Australia would have had more options to try against the Pakistan batters.
The visitors got off to the worst possible start to a deciding fixture when they lost in-form opener Travis Head on the very first ball to an innings as the left-hander saw his off-stump rattled by a full toss by Shaheen.
Head’s opening partner and Australia captain Aaron Finch also departed for a duck when he was trapped lbw by Haris’ inswinger in the very next over. The right-armer then forced an outside edge off Marnus Labushagne’s bat to Iftikhar Ahmed at first slip as Australia were left reeling at 6-3.
Ben McDermott and Marcus Stoinis did launch a counterattack against Pakistan but it ended with the latter’s departure as he found Imam at short cover off leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood before Wasim made McDermott his first victim.
It was then wicket-keeper Alex Carey and all-rounder Green’s effort of 81 off 95 balls for the sixth wicket that ensured that Australia go on to post a respectable total before the latter was cleaned up by Wasim.
Deep into the innings, a 44-run partnership off 36 balls between Zampa and Abbot for the last wicket was crucial, but eventually went in vain for the visitors.
T. Head b Shaheen 0
A. Finch lbw b Rauf 0
B. McDermott c Iftikhar b Wasim 3
M. Labuschagne c Iftikhar b Haris 4
M. Stoinis c Imam b Zahid 19
A. Carey c Fakhar b Iftikhar 56
C. Green b Wasim 34
S. Abbott c Wasim b Haris 49
J. Behrendorff c Fakhar b Shaheen 2
N. Ellis b Wasim 2
A. Zampa not out 0
EXTRAS (LB-2, W-6) 8
TOTAL (all out; 41.5 overs) 210
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-0 (Head), 2-0 (Finch), 3-6 (Labuschagne), 4-59 (Stoinis), 5-67 (McDermott), 6-148 (Green), 7-155 (Carey), 8-162 (Behrendorff), 9-166 (Ellis), 10-210 (Abbott)
BOWLING: Shaheen 8-2-40-2 (1w), Haris 8.5-1-39-3, Zahid 8-0-51-1 (1w), Wasim 10-1-40-3, Iftikhar 7-0-38-1
Fakhar Zaman c Labuschagne b Ellis 17
Imam-ul-Haq not out 89
Babar Azam not out 105
EXTRAS (LB-1, W-2) 3
TOTAL (for one wkt; 37.5 overs) 214
DID NOT BAT: Mohammad Rizwan, Asif Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Wasim, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf, Zahid Mahmood
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-24 (Fakhar)
BOWLING: Behrendorff 9-0-51-0, Ellis 6-0-38-1 (1w), Zampa 9-0-50-0, Green 3-0-19-0 (1w), Head 2-0-9-0, Abbott 3-0-15-0. Labuschagne 5.5-0-31-0.
Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2022