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Preview: Pakistan eye series sweep in final T20

September 09, 2012


Good captaincy, Ajmal’s magic, fielding brilliance, cool nerves and luck had all played their part in the second Twenty20 win. -Photo by AFP

Match: 3rd T20i Pakistan vs Australia (Pakistan lead the three-match series 2-0)

Venue: Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Date and Time: Monday, September 10th 2012, 21:00 PST / 16:00 GMT

Overall Rivalry: Twice as good; Pakistan 6 wins Australia 3 wins

Momentum in the last five encounters: Carnage; Pakistan-4, Australia-1

Weather Report: Partial clouds in the evening but no chances of rain. Low of 32 Celsius with a heat index of 36 Celsius. The wind will be a few km/h stronger than preceding nights but the players will be looking forward to catch the earliest possible flight out of the desert heat.

22-Yard Report: Australia were 89 all out in the first game and came back hard chasing 151 in the second. The fast bowlers already have some movement, the spinners have some bite and the batsmen have some of those balls right in the middle of their blade. The curator has done a great job in giving a level playing field for the competition so far and the pitch in the last game should again reward with any good cricket that is played on it.

Game On: Not sure if the Friday prayers inspired or the vibe of a full house Pakistani crowd conspired with the universe but Friday continued to be a blessed day for Pakistan cricket in the UAE. The second T20 was more than just a tied match – Pakistan won through a super over to go up two nil in a three match series. It was a game that might have made Pakistan break their mental shackles the Australians had put them under for over a decade.

Rewind back to Hobart in the summer of 99 down under, Pakistan had the Aussies reeling at a 126/5 chasing a mammoth 369 in the fourth innings of a Test. Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist tore apart the bowling line which consisted of WasimAkram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhter and Saqlain Mushtaq and took Australia home to one of the more improbable wins in history. The Aussies went on to white wash Pakistan in that series and followed it up with a white wash in every Test series played over the next decade.

After Pakistan’s World Cup final annihilation earlier that year at Lord’s, the fate of ODIs was no different where the Aussies won 28 of the 40 ODIs with Pakistan winning only nine. While the primary reason of that record has to be attributed to the quality of the legendary Australian team of the previous decade, a part of it can be credited to Pakistan’s psychological submission while playing them.

During the time of Australian dominance, there were many occasions when Pakistan had a strangle hold in a match only to lose their grip on it later. The last-ball loss in the ICC champions trophy, the afternoon when Shoaib Akhter floored Australia in the third innings of a futile Test in Colombo, the thrashing at the hands of Andrew Symonds at the World Cup in South Africa, the infamous Sydney Test that Kamran Akmal dropped and the jaw dropping Hussey innings in the World T20 semi-final in West Indies are a few of the many Australian nightmares of a Pakistani cricket fan. For the cricketers though it was more than just that; it was the ground reality they had to live with whenever facing the Australians.

Most times, Pakistan would lose the game before walking on to the field and if by some miracle of collective or individual brilliance they were in a position to win, that same lack of self-belief would often become their biggest hindrance in crossing the finish line against the Aussies.

Until Michael Hussey was at the crease on Friday, there was a sense of fear in the hearts of all Pakistanis irrespective of what the scoreboard had to say. The ghosts of the past were looming inside their heads, including the fresh Hussey wounds from the final ODI loss received a few days earlier, until they finally saw his back in the 16th over.

Good captaincy, Ajmal’s magic, fielding brilliance, cool nerves and luck had all played their part on Friday but perhaps it was the quality of the current  Australian team compared to the previous one that made the biggest difference in the result. From the modern day invincibles who, to be fair, destroyed not just Pakistan but every nation that came in their path, only Hussey has survived along with Michael Clarke who continues to focus on purer forms of the game.

Under normal circumstances, a fourth ranked team is but expected to win against a team that is joint-ranked at nine. Would the Pakistanis have celebrated this win in similar fashion if it were against Ireland? The taste of this super over and series victory goes far beyond what meets the eye and can only be savoured by those who recognise its true worth and have craved for its flavour long enough.

Australians always have and will always be one of the toughest sides to beat with their academies nourishing some of the world’s best cricketing talent. Hopefully for Pakistan’s sake, a leaf has been turned and it should not take another decade to win a three game series in at least one form of the game, if not all, against their biggest cricketing nemeses.

Game Changer: Complacency has been another one of Pakistan’s biggest failings. The last thing that this series needs is for a team to show up without really showing up. A batting collapse from Pakistan or a flurry of dropped catches has already gone against their law of averages. Dav Whatmore and Mohammad Hafeez have to make sure to keep their team on its toes.

Pre-game Talk: “Whatever I am asking of them, they are delivering. They are always trying to deliver according to my plan and my plan obviously is to win the game,” Professor Mohammad Hafeez lays out his plans.

"I'm still not sure how the rankings work. So Ireland go past us tonight. I'm not sure if we've ever played Ireland in a T20. Make of that what you will. If Ireland are a better side than us I guess they'll show it in a couple of weeks in Sri Lanka," George Bailey finding it difficult to come to terms with the Australian ranking.

Last XI fielded Australians: George Bailey (capt), Shane Watson, Pat Cummins, Brad Hogg, Daniel Christian, David Hussey, Michael Hussey, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Cameron White

Last XI fielded Pakistanis: Mohammad Hafeez (capt), Imran Nazir, NasirJamshed, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Kamran Akmal, Abdul Razzaq, SohailTanveer, Umar Gul, SaeedAjmal, Raza Hasan

Possible Changes: With the fate of the series already decided, it will be fair to test the bench strength for both teams.

Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Sami and Yasir Arafat might get a chance to once again prove their worth in the final game. For Australia, fast bowler Alister McDermott, son of great Craig McDermott, could get to make his international debut. With only one game to go, the Aussies still do not have a settled unit before the all-important World T20 that follows.

Trivia:  When was the last time Pakistan white washed Australia in any format of the game in a series of three or more matches? (Answer will be published in the next Pakistan match preview).

Answer to the previous quiz: Shahid Khan Afridi is the only cricketer to have scored over five hundred runs and taken over fifty wickets in T20 Internationals.

Final words: Pakistan will want to reverse their role and sweep the series while the Aussies will play for the pride they are best known for. Momentum for the World T20 is what both teams will look for, but too much hindsight or foresight can sometimes lead to losing focus on the job at hand.

The writer grew up in a home with sports as its religion and “The Cricketer” subscription of black and white pages as holy script. He resides in Istanbul and can be reached here.