Wahab Riaz delivered one of the most fearsome spells in World Cup history but Australia, helped by some shoddy Pakistan fielding, weathered the storm and set up a semi-final showdown with India. Chasing 214 to win this quarter-final, Australia faced trouble at 59 for 3. Wahab delivered a bouncer barrage to Shane Watson but, like a zing bail earlier in the day, Watson wobbled but did not fall, and was there to strike the winning runs.
The key moment came when Wahab’s efforts led to a top edge from Watson that flew high to fine leg, where Rahat Ali contrived to drop the simplest of chances. Wahab let out a scream, and you could sense all the pressure he had built slowly dissipate. Wahab was playing like a cornered tiger; Rahat after his drop looked like a cornered kitten. Pakistan soon ran out of energy and options. Watson, Steven Smith and Glenn Maxwell secured the result.
Just as Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene left ODI cricket with a disappointing loss on Wednesday, so too will Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi. Misbah was always in the game, though, his 34 helping to rebuild Pakistan’s innings and his captaincy asking questions of Australia. Who’d have thought that in a World Cup quarter-final a 40-year-old skipper would be under the helmet at short leg?
But so Misbah was as the pressure built on Australia. Wahab’s initial six-over spell brought 2 for 24 – David Warner cut to third man and Michael Clarke fended a short one to a man in close. The Clarke wicket was indicative of Pakistan’s approach, and it only became clearer when Watson arrived.
Wahab fizzed bouncer after bouncer at Watson’s head and chest; Watson ducked and fended awkwardly. He scored only four times off Wahab in that spell, one flew off the shoulder of the bat short of third man, one was the drop by Rahat. At the other end, Smith had no such trouble, calmly compiling runs, cover driving with exquisite timing and placement. In terms of fluency, watching Smith and Watson batting together was like seeing Winston Churchill trying to converse with Manuel from Fawlty Towers.
But once Wahab was too exhausted to continue, Watson was a different batsman. He immediately pulled Sohail Khan for four, and the runs began to flow. Smith fittingly brought up his half-century with a superb cover drive for four off Rahat from his 51st delivery, but was eventually lbw to Ehsan Adil walking across his stumps for 65.
Maxwell joined Watson after the 89-run Smith-Watson stand and played some outlandish shots, including a tennis smash that flew off the frame of his racquet, or bat, and was put down by Sohail at third man. Typically, it was off a Wahab short ball. Pakistan will go no further in this tournament, but it will not be through any lack of effort from Wahab. Maxwell was on 44 and Watson 64 when the victory came.
Pakistan’s fielding was poor, but their biggest problem was their batting. Their innings featured more cameos than a Robert Altman film, but no lead role. Eight batsmen reached double figures but nobody scored a fifty. Once a solid 73-run stand between Misbah and Haris Sohail was broken, it was a steady decline. Still, from 24 for 2 in the sixth over, they were perhaps fortunate to even breach 200.
Misbah started slowly and looked set to perform yet another rescue mission, and together with Haris frustrated the Australians. Ultimately, though, it was Pakistan who were frustrated. Trying to lift the run rate, Misbah fell for 34 off 59 deliveries, and was followed soon after by a flat-footed Haris, who edged behind off Mitchell Johnson for 41 off 57.
Cow corner turned into sheep corner as one by one the Pakistan batsmen followed each other senselessly into oblivion by slogging to the man at deep midwicket. Misbah was the leader of the flock. Twice he had cleared the midwicket boundary off Maxwell, but when he tried for a third he managed only a top edge that was comfortably taken by Aaron Finch.
Perhaps tempted by the short square boundaries, Umar Akmal also sent a catch straight to Finch at deep midwicket off Maxwell. Then it was Afridi, who miscued his pull off Josh Hazlewood and was well caught by Finch above his head back near the boundary. Akmal had made 20 off 25, Afridi had struck 23 off 15. If it is Afridi’s final ODI innings, it was at least a typical one.
A 30-run stand between Sohaib Maqsood and Wahab briefly annoyed the Australians, although mostly because so many balls whizzed passed their outside edges. The seeds for Wahab’s aggressive bowling might have been sowed when Mitchell Starc seemed to advise him that the ball was white, and he should try to hit it. There was some tension at the time, though they were sharing a smile or two soon after.
Maqsood fell for 29 when he slashed Hazlewood to point, and Wahab was gone for 16 when he edged behind off Starc. Hazlewood had moved the ball early and finished with 4 for 35, justifying the decision of the selectors to recall him ahead of Pat Cummins, and Starc bowled well for his two. Pakistan limped to the 50th over but 213 was hardly what Misbah had in mind when he chose to bat.
But then, maybe it was a decent effort given both openers gone within the first six overs. Sarfraz Ahmed and Ahmed Shehzad both edged to slip to be caught low to the ground by diving fielders, Watson off Starc for Sarfraz and Clarke off Hazlewood for Shehzad. It was nearly 24 for 3 in the sixth over when Misbah had a stroke of good fortune.
The second ball that Misbah faced flicked the leg stump and while the zing bail lit.