World Cup 2015: Australia March 17, 2015

Australia fear Pakistan on a roll

Shane Watson - "We know this is a danger game for us because they can come on and just turn it on like they have throughout the times I've played them in the past" © Getty Images

Australian cricketers have always looked upon their Pakistani equivalents with a combination of admiration, fascination and the occasional bout of exasperation. How can a single cricket nation possess so much talent? How can it survive so many dramas both internal and external? And how can it look to be about to dominate one moment before falling apart the very next?

The Australians fear Pakistan when they get on a roll, which is not quite the same as saying they fear Pakistan.

Ahead of a World Cup quarter-final meeting for which Australia will be heavily favoured, Shane Watson offered up a fairly typical summary of this attitude. Pakistan are dangerous, he asserted, but almost as much to themselves as they are to Australia. Keep calm and carry on, seemed to be the message, awaiting the moment when the subcontinental side will be overcome by demons beyond the understanding of Watson or others.

"They can play some incredible cricket, as they have in times I've played against them, but they also can self-destruct quite quickly as well," Watson said. "That's the reason why the Pakistan team are so dangerous, especially in a knockout game like this quarter-final. They've certainly got some match-winners.

"Once this Pakistan team gets on a roll they're certainly able to use that momentum to be able to shut down teams very quickly. We know this is a danger game for us because they can come on and just turn it on like they have throughout the times I've played them in the past.

"We know we're going to have to be at our absolute best to not give them a chance to be able to get that momentum. We know if they're able to get that they can run away with it very quickly."

There are two recent examples of both instances for Australia to mull over. The Test series in the UAE last October was a triumph of Pakistani talent, spirit and experience in the prevailing conditions over an Australian team that was well drilled and well-resourced but lacking the requisite knowledge of the pitches and the humility required to play to a slow-pitch rhythm.

Immediately before that, Pakistan had given Australia every reason to be confident, beaten 3-0 in the ODI series that preceded it. Most memorably, they seemed to have the dead third match in their keeping until, with only two runs required from the final over bowled by Glenn Maxwell, conspired to lose their final two wickets without getting either of the runs they needed. The exclamation of "Oh they've lost it!" from a commentating Dean Jones captured all Australian cricket's wonderment at Pakistan in a single phrase.

A third example of extremes was the pool match at the 2011 World Cup in Colombo, when the winner took top spot in the group and avoided a quarter-final with India. Australia won what was thought to be an important toss, but were overrun by a collective performance that bubbled up to overwhelm a succession of uneasy batsmen, caught up in the inexorable momentum of Pakistan's fielding and bowling efforts.

"I try to forget that one, because we lost it," Watson said. "We knew that was a really important game against Pakistan because if we lost against them we were going to have to play India in the quarter-final, which we knew was going to be a big challenge on their home turf - and it worked out that way. I've got some good memories but also some bad memories that I try to forget as quick as I can. That was one."

The 2011 World Cup encounter between the two sides doesn't hold pleasant memories for Watson: "I try to forget that one, because we lost it" © Getty Images

The Pakistan of 2015 has departed little from this sort of winding script, looking listless against India and the West Indies before shocking South Africa and then brushing Ireland aside. There is strength and depth in the bowling attack, which should mean Mohammad Irfan's absence is not felt too keenly. Michael Hussey, who twice pulled off his own escape acts against Pakistan in the 2010 Sydney Test and the World T20 semi-final that same year, reckoned the start would be vital.

"A lot of the time with a lot of subcontinental teams, if they're on top they're very hard to stop, they really ride that wave of emotion and pressure and play a fantastic game," Hussey said. "From Australia's point of view it is very important to get on top early, start early whether with the bat or the ball, try to get Pakistan under pressure and win the game from there. Certainly they're a very good team and have some tough players that need to be shown a lot of respect.

"They've got a fantastic bowling attack, and that's what you need in World Cups, you need to be able to take wickets to put pressure on the batsmen, particularly the Australian batsmen because they are positive players, they like to be scoring all the time and it's the only way you can stop them really, by trying to get them out. Pakistan have shown that in this World Cup already."

Whatever the result on Friday, the Australian fascination with Pakistan will continue. Unquestionably there is something for each nation to learn from the other.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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