Australia v Pakistan, Final, Videocon Cup, Amsterdam August 28, 2004

Little earthquakes

When the going got tough, Matt the Bat dug in © Getty Images

Every so often, it's heartening to see batsmen really sweat and struggle for runs in a one-day international. Bat has come to dominate ball so comprehensively in the shorter game that we've almost forgotten the delights that a low-scoring drama can offer and the different questions - mental and physical - it asks of modern-day cricketers.

All of a sudden, with so few runs at stake, not giving anything away - wickets or runs - assumes critical importance. Wickets must be preserved and runs must be stolen. Batsmen speak in singles, and boundaries become gold dust. When the pitch is as treacherous as the one we had in Amstelveen, cricket seems a different ballgame altogether, but the basics remain the same.

For long, Australia have mastered doing the little things well; stealing singles, backing up on throws, and not bowling no-balls. Today, they did so again. In the process, not only did they win a tournament - laughably after one match - but they also provided Pakistan with a lesson in how to win games in any conditions.

The best teams, like Australia, simply adjust to different requirements and conditions; part of their brilliance lies in their resilience and versatility. And given that they had barely played a decent day's cricket in some time before today, it only adds to the aura of greatness that hovers over them.

Matthew Hayden, so unforgivably bludgeoning in his treatment of bowlers generally, realised early on in the piece that run scoring would be an unpleasant task. So he dug in, grinding out a pedestrian but invaluable fifty. Darren Lehmann too played an unorthodox, yet necessary, hand. Brett Lee returned after a long injury lay-off and bowled with hostility and considerable menace, picking up a wicket in his first over and looking like he had never been away.

Glenn McGrath, the subject of increasing criticism, bowled with all his old cunning and guile, and worryingly for batsmen around the world, with some renewed pace and vigour as well. And the fielding was an instrument to exert pressure, not just to save runs.

Teams like Pakistan, who hope to emulate them, don't adapt quite as smoothly, although there were signs today that they are learning. That they came close will be of little solace to Woolmer and his men; the size of the defeat won't hurt as much as the nature of it.

Twice in the run chase, Pakistan was in control, and twice they didn't just give away the initiative, they gift-wrapped it and presented it to Australia on a platter. Two run-outs in two balls, both involving Yousuf Youhana - fast approaching an Inzi-like cult status for his running - spoke of the comically chaotic methods of self-destruction Pakistan can still conjure up.

Even for the unflappable Woolmer, it must have come as a cruel shock. And Abdul Razzaq's dismissal, an unnecessary slog after he and Youhana had partially undone the damage, spoke of another malaise - that of mental indiscipline - that Woolmer must attend to.

What either team will take out of Holland and into England is difficult to ascertain and for that the almost farcical nature of this tournament is to blame. A single-league triangular always seemed lacking in substance, and its only purpose - and saving rationale - was to act as a warm-up for the ICC Trophy. After two completed matches - one heavily curtailed - even that was questionable and Inzamam's comments at the post-match ceremony about the tournament being, essentially, a holiday were significant.

Australia will be pleased that they at least got a whole game - and a tense one at that - under their belt. They will be pleased too at the form of men like Andrew Symonds, and the return of Brett Lee. And in the blonde, hustling figure of Michael Clarke, they can hope that the loss of the iceman, Michael Bevan, will not be felt as acutely as it should.

Pakistan will also take heart, from the further development of Shoaib Malik, who impressed again with his temperament and thinking approach, as well as the resurgence of their bowling attack, distinguished by the discipline of Mohammad Sami and, in particular, Shabbir Ahmed. Above all, having played against the very best in the business, they will have some idea of what it takes to compete against them. At the end of the year, when they go to Australia, the confidence they take from today might come in handy. The hosts remain firm favourites for that series, as well as for the ICC Trophy.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance writer based in Karachi.