Aus v Pak, Champions Trophy, Group A, Centurion September 29, 2009

Thin line between semi-final and semi-decent


It is a sobering thought that should Australia not go through tomorrow, they will have been bounced out of a world event in the first round (the World Twenty20 in England), lost the Ashes and failed to make the Champions Trophy semi-finals in the same year. In its own way, it will be an annus horribilis, though these things are relative and more so in this age of Australian transition, where expectations perhaps are to be recalibrated.

Mind you, had things taken their natural course - or unnatural if you like - in Centurion the other night against India, they might not have been in the situation they are now. It isn't quite must-win, but the Australians aren't the kind to rely on "peculiar mathematics" (as Kumar Sangakkara so beautifully put it the other night). A win is what they will want and it is the only permutation they will factor in as they take on a dangerously in-form Pakistan.

"We were disappointed with the way things finished off yesterday," Ricky Ponting said. "I thought we were in a pretty strong position in the game. With only a few wickets down and going into the last 10 overs with 240-odd on the board, you'd post a total around 300 which I thought would be really competitive on that pitch. We're disappointed that it didn't finish."

Yet still there was a bit to gain, not least some time in the middle against spin, which may play a part again tomorrow. Centurion hasn't been kind to all spinners, but Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal used the surface well against India, and they have previous with Australia. "The positive for us is to spend that much time in the middle against some good spin bowling which we know Pakistan is going to have for us tomorrow as well, so we've got some positives coming out. We know now what we have to do, we have to win tomorrow to guarantee ourselves to move on."

It will not be easy. Pakistan might tinker with their combination to account for injuries but they are a side, as much as can be gauged and predicted, in good shape and in possession of that one thing that makes them more dangerous and thrilling still: momentum.

Michael Clarke's absence will hurt and they could do with Shane Watson scoring a few runs at the top, or even in fact, one. His last three innings, Ponting had forgotten (he thought it was two), had fetched him precisely zero.

"I'm sure he's thinking about that at the moment but I haven't thought much about it," Ponting reasoned. "It isn't ideal obviously but Shane has come off a very good last half of the Ashes in England, played really well in the ODI games and he has been in good form. He got a good ball at Durham, a good ball against West Indies and had a couple of good balls in the first over against India. The ODI game can go horrible like that for top order batsmen. He's working hard and he's going to an optional training session today. Although he hasn't scored runs I am confident he will come good."

If previous form had anything to do with it, tomorrow would be a breeze. If there is one team Australia have enjoyed playing over the last 15 years, it is Pakistan. They've won 12 of their last 15 encounters and generally, since the 1999 World Cup final, dominated proceedings between the two. "We all know how dangerous they can be and especially of late they've been playing some very good cricket," said Ponting. "If they happen to leave some of the big boys out it'll make our job a little easier but whatever team they put out it'll be a tough game."

And what of not making it? "It'll be disappointing for us if we don't. We're in a pretty good position to make it through but it's all about how you play on the day. You've just got to look at South Africa, red hot favourites coming in, and they didn't perform at their best for two games and are out.

"That's the nature of the tournament and there is no room or margin for error, especially if you have a game affected by rain. It puts us behind the eight-ball a little bit more but our destiny is in our own hands and we know what we have to do: play well tomorrow. If we don't, it's just because we haven't played well on the day."

That has happened more often this year than in recent years and though Ponting was upbeat and confident - as winning captains are - not making it through tomorrow will be the least ideal way to end a less than ideal period.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Amiya on September 30, 2009, 11:27 GMT

    You mean 'descent'.....and not 'decent' right?? BTW, Australia may be down but definitely not out. It is hard to imagine a degradation of Carribean proportions for the Aussies simply because the passion to perform and the domestic support system is far ahead of other countries.......

  • andrew on September 30, 2009, 11:27 GMT

    Really dumb article right from the start, Saying 'if Australia don't get through' is like saying 'if the sun doesn't come up tomorrow it will be very cold.' After a comfortable win against WI and a thoroughly dominant performance against India, such an assessment is nothing short of mindless.

  • Jairam on September 30, 2009, 9:53 GMT

    This Indian team does not deserve to be in the semis, it would have lost to Australia in all probability if the match had not been abandoned.However, a team without Sehwag, Yuvraj and Zaheer is seriously handicapped, tantamount to Pakistan playing without Afridi,Younis and Gul. It can't be helped, so just accept the fact and move on.

  • irfan on September 30, 2009, 9:30 GMT

    This is an intersting article for sure and we need to face the music too. If Aussies lose (that is one difficult result to digest)then obviousely India have their chances but if they win,then there is no point in blaming umpires for the bad decisions or hardluck as Cricket is the game where every match is new for everyone and one needs to perform to keep the team in the contest. Unfortunately for the Indians fans the case is like a bitter pill and is hard to pop. They did not perform well against Pakistan and even against the Aussies as i strongly believe that had it not been showered the other night,the Indians would have lost. Please,stop relying on Sachin as He is THE batsman but not a match winner for sure. Indians cant cope up with pace or bounce so chances were bleak that they could have beaten Aussies. Anyway,Pakistan is rocking the boat and is THE strong candidate for the finals and if they do make it to the finals then they can win the trophy too.Better luck next time india;)

  • Armughan on September 30, 2009, 6:33 GMT

    To rohan24, Pakistan didnt loose to Australia in World Cup 92. The format of that particular tournament meant that any team could survive early scares or good teams could mess up after a fine start. A great example is of Aussies who were red hot favorites yet despite a good start, they couldnt get more points then Pakistan. Pakistan had 4 wins and a N/R and they couldnt better it.

    Today's game would be an interesting one. I think Pakistan can win it as we have a good form going on and the team is above all, motivated. Should be one really good game and should be worth watching.

  • Irfan on September 30, 2009, 6:28 GMT

    Reply to rohan024: In 92 World Cup, Pakistan did beat Australia. If rain saved them in the game against England, it betrayed in the match against SA. But in the assessment of the situation, I agree with you. Treat the game as normal as possible.

  • Zaheer on September 30, 2009, 5:47 GMT

    The only thing where Australia has an edge over Pakistan at the moment is the psychological advantage that they enjoy over Pakistan. The last series between the two sides played in UAE should have been won by Pakistan 3-2 but they lost as they did not have the confidence to capitalize the opportunities. Besides, I feel that their middle order would struggle against the spin of Ajmal & Afridi & the reverse swing of Gul in the absence of Michael Clarke. There is no denying the fact that Younus will go all out to win it to remove the physcological advantage that Aussies have over his team as these two teams could meet again in the final.

  • waseem on September 30, 2009, 5:45 GMT

    i dont think pak will play with their full strength. lets think if pak wins today and india goes in the semi and in the final india beats pak to win champions trophy? strange but i agree strange things happen in cricket. pakistani in good shape esp their big guns firing against India so it will be close match.

  • Rohan on September 30, 2009, 5:41 GMT

    Well i read many fans writing that India doesn't deserve to go to semi finals. Fair enough. But in cricket just like in life you don't get things just because you deserve them. Pakistan won the 92 WC after loosing to India, West indies, South Africa, Australia and getting bowled out against England for mere 76 (rain saved them). Having said that do we really want to be dependant on Pakistan for qualifying ? Come on guys, this is just a tournament. It would have been great had we qualified but the world won't stop if we don't. So chillax & enjoy the game. Aus and Pakistan both should be dying to win this match as the looser will play its Semi Final match on wanderers wicket and we all know what will happen to pakistan on wanderes wicket if they bat first.

  • jitendra on September 30, 2009, 5:39 GMT

    I think Australi should do the same with Ponting what india has done with tendulkar. They should relieve him of the burden and baggage of being a captain. A batsman like him at this maturity level is a treasure to world cricket and we need to preserve. I think the kind of innings a Tendulkar, a ponting gona play in next couple of years, will be classics to world cricket. They dont have anything to prove anyone. They have done with playing for their countries, rankings, tournaments for everything thats there. Let them play for Cricket itself now. I think a ponting without the burden of captaincy will be a much better batsman...probably one of the best we have ever seen.

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