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The enigma that is the Pakistan cricket team showed just why they should be considered as one of the favourites for the World Cup crown as the 1992 World Champions recorded their fifth win of the tournament to claim top spot in Group A and with it end Australia's incredible World Cup record at 34-games unbeaten. The last time Australia lost a World Cup game, it was to Pakistan in the 1999 edition of the competition, and while losing is never a happy sign, Australia would look towards the good omens that they went on to clinch the World title that year bouncing back very quickly from that defeat.
On Saturday night in Colombo, Pakistan produced an awe-inspiring performance with the ball, tactically outsmarting the Australian batsmen to knock them over for just 176 runs well inside 50 overs. While the runs were paltry, it was consistent bowling and keeping a tight leash on the runs which created pressure on the batting side, and forced the wickets to come Pakistan's way. The chase was typically tense with Pakistan threatening to throw away all their hard work following a couple of short bursts by Brett Lee, who was unlucky to be on the losing side despite picking up 4 wickets. The two youngsters in the Pakistan team Asad Shafiq and Umar Akmal played contrasting innings to help guide their side to a famous win and crucially top spot in the Group, earning them a quarter-final meeting against either England or the West Indies. Australia meanwhile finish third in their group, tied on points with Sri Lanka, but behind on net run rate. They would face either India or the West Indies in their quarter-final, a prize that perhaps neither side would wish to claim when they face off in tomorrow's marquee clash.
Australia won the toss and decided to make first use of the pitch. There was only one change to the Pakistan line-up with Umar Akmal predictably returning to the middle order with out of form opener Ahmad Shahzad making way. That meant a change in the way the team would line-up with the impressive Asad Shafiq hanging on to his place at no.3 with Kamran Akmal slated to open the batting with Mohammad Hafeez. Australia on the other hand remained unchanged with Cameron White continuing to keep David Hussey out of the playing eleven.
Left arm spinner Abdur Rehman opened the bowling with Umar Gul and the pair bowled a tight line, not allowing Shane Watson and Brad Haddin to score runs at a brisk pace. The pressure led to Watson's fall, bowled by Umar Gul for 9 in the 5th over. Captain Ricky Ponting has been struggling for runs for months and this was the perfect opportunity for him to find some form. Runs were hard to come by though as Pakistan were at their miserly best with the 50 of the innings coming up as late as the 13th over and Australia scoring just 36 runs in the mandatory powerplay.
Shahid Afridi and Wahab Riaz followed the new ball bowlers very well as the run rate stagnated at under 4. Despite the odd singles coming, the innings was meandering as the Pakistan bowlers had managed to get under the skin of their opposition. Ponting was lucky to get away with a top edged hook, but fell soon after, trying to cut part-timer Mohammad Hafeez and getting the thickest of edges through to the keeper. The Umpire somehow missed it as Ponting stood his ground, but fortunately Pakistan had a review remaining and Ponting had to make his way back for 19 from 33 balls. Credit to Kamran Akmal, the much maligned keeper doing well to just about hang on to the chance in his gloves' webbing.
Ponting's dismissal started the slide for Australia, with no other partnership contributing more than 27. Haddin followed his skipper back after a painstaking 42 from 80 balls and Cameron White continued his poor run, scoring just 8 before being run out by Misbah-ul-Haq. The onus was on vice-captain Michael Clarke to dig Australia out of trouble, and while he did make a handy 34, his team really needed him to buckle down and get a big score. Clarke was cleaned up by Abdul Razzaq in his first over, a smart bowling change by skipper Afridi.
Pakistan sensed a chance to bowl Australia out and seemed to have a plan in mind when they attacked Michael Hussey with the left-arm spin of Abdur Rehman. Mr. Cricket, usually so very reliable gifted Pakistan his wicket, chipping the ball straight to the fielder at short midwicket to leave Australia at 144/6.
Steve Smith made a useful 25, but Australia's tail failed to wag, and the champions were bowled out for 176, failing to bat out their 50 overs. Umar Gul was the pick of the bowlers, finishing with 3/30. Riaz was a touch expensive, going for 39 runs in just 6 overs and could well make way for Shoaib Akhtar come the knock-out rounds. Abdul Razzaq was not used at the start today and it proved to be a masterstroke with the allrounder finishing with 2-8 from just 4 overs. The Pakistani spinners did a fantastic job tying the Aussie batsmen in knots and though they got just 3 wickets between them - Rehman, Afridi and Hafeez - induced all the pressure bowling 29 overs for 94 runs.
Facing the prospect of their first defeat in 35 World Cup games, the Australian pacers needed to steam in and make a statement. Brett Lee did just that removing Hafeez for 5 in the third over. Kamran Akmal at the other end was keen on sending a message of his own, trying to claim the opening spot by showing the Pakistan fans what they've been missing in 5 games thus far. The senior Akmal took on the fast bowlers and despite falling for 23 to Brett Lee, had ensured that Pakistan were ahead of the asking rate at 45/2 in the 9th over.
Asad Shafiq at no.3 was displaying maturity beyond his years and was playing in a manner that would have done his idol Mohammad Yousuf proud. Shafiq dropped anchor allowing the Pakistani strokemakers to play around him and Pakistan were looking well in control at 98/2 in the 23rd over. Ricky Ponting brought back his pace spearhead Brett Lee for a second spell and the quickie responded by removing Younus Khan (31) and Misbah-ul-Haq off consecutive deliveries leaving Pakistan with 79 runs still to get with 6 wickets in hand.
Shafiq though refused to give his wicket away and was joined in the middle by young Umar Akmal who was keen to continue Pakistan's aggressive approach from one end. The partnership reached 139 before Shafiq's resistance was finally ended for 46 when he got a snorter from Mitchell Johnson which he fended off to the waiting hands of Shane Watson at first slip. Credit to Ponting once again for keeping the slip in and chasing wickets despite both batsmen being well set. Once again Australia made the most of the opportunity by landing a double blow, Shahid Afridi playing a typically irresponsible shot and holing out to the fielder in the deep. That left Pakistan in a spot of bother at 142/6 and Australia would have felt they were in with a chance of stealing a win.
Pakistan though bat deep and with Abdul Razzaq coming in at no.8 there was no cause for the alarm bells to start ringing. While Razzaq milked the bowling for singles, Akmal continued to play extravagant strokes as the target came down to single digits. Ponting turned one final time to Lee, but the skipper for once had waited too long in bringing back his pace merchant and after fending off some chin music, Razzaq decided to end the match from the other end hitting Jason Krejza for consecutive boundaries to bring an early end to proceedings.
Australia: Watson, Haddin, Ponting, Clarke, White, M Hussey, Smith, Johnson, Krejza, Lee, Tait.
Pakistan: K Akmal, Hafeez, Shafiq, Younus K, Misbah-ul-Haq, U Akmal, Razzaq, Afridi, Rehman, Gul, Riaz.
Australia 176 all out (46.4 overs, 3.77rpo)
Brad Haddin 42(80) Umar Gul 3-30
Michael Clarke 34 (48) Abdul Razzaq 2-8
Pakistan 178/6 (41 overs, 4.34rpo)
Asad Shafiq 46 (81) Brett Lee 4-28
Umar Akmal 44* (59) Mitchell Johnson 1-40
Pakistan win by 4 wickets with 9 overs remaining
File Photograph Copyright: ICC World T20
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