Australia reach semis after thriller
Pakistan's bowlers were magnificent in their defence of a modest total, but could not deny Australia a thrilling last-ball victory that ensured their progression to a fourth consecutive Champions Trophy semi-final. The Australians were at one stage coasting at 140 for 2 in pursuit of Pakistan's target of 206, only to lose six wickets for 47 in a dizzying 12-over sequence that temporarily opened the door for India to leap-frog them into the next round of the tournament.
In the end, Brett Lee and Nathan Hauritz guided Australia to a two-wicket win that secured them a rematch with England, and made a dead-rubber of India's match against the West Indies down the road at the Wanderers. It was anything but convincing though. Mohammad Asif, playing his first international in 18 months, claimed two wickets in an excellent second spell to draw Pakistan back into the contest, and Saeed Ajmal continued to mesmerise the Australians with 2 for 31 from 10 superb overs. Adding to the intrigue was Naved-ul-Hasan, who at one stage conceded a solitary run from three overs at the death, turning Australia's comfortable stroll into a nerve-shredding climb.
Australia entered the final over requiring five runs for victory, and Umar Gul gave them a torrid time. Bowling full, straight and with a hint of movement, Gul forced the Australians to edge and scamper for their runs, with victory eventually coming from a frantically-run bye from the last delivery of the match. Lee, who had played an instrumental role in restricting Pakistan's batsmen earlier in the day, finished with an unbeaten 12, highlighted by a dancing drive to an Ajmal doosra in the 48th over that broke Australia out of their funk.
Shane Watson and Tim Paine seemed set to make short work of Pakistan's total, frequently hitting and clearing the boundary to kick-start the Australian innings. Watson cast aside memories of his recent run of ducks by blasting 10 runs from Umar Gul's opening over, and Paine followed with a neatly clipped six over midwicket from Mohammad Asif, who bowled without venom on his return to international cricket.
Neither opener made it through the first 12 overs - Watson edged a quicker Gul delivery to Akmal, while Paine was trapped leg-before by Afridi - but Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey ensured there would be no top-order capitulation with an 81-run third-wicket stand. Ponting contributed a stoic 32 from 64 deliveries, and Hussey a more energetic 64 from 87 as Australia eyed an early shower.
Their dismissals, however, triggered a collapse that evoked painful Ashes memories in several members of the squad. Callum Ferguson, Cameron White, James Hopes and Mitchell Johnson were all dismissed for single-digit scores as Pakistan roared back into the contest on a difficult Centurion pitch. But their resurgence fell just short, allowing Australia safe passage through to the semi-finals.
Earlier, Mitchell Johnson claimed his 100th ODI scalp, but run-restriction rather than wicket-taking proved the key to Australia's strong bowling performance. Pakistan's batsmen laboured through the middle stages of their innings and batted with little urgency with wickets in hand at the death, leaving Australia a modest run-chase on a flattening wicket.
Mohammad Yousuf (45 off 69) and Kamran Akmal (44 off 63) were the most prolific of the Pakistan batsmen, however neither mastered the conditions nor the bowlers. Misbah-ul-Haq looked more assured during his knock of 41 from 53 deliveries, but his dismissal - stepping on his stumps to a Watson wide in the final over - summed up a Pakistan innings that faltered out of the blocks.
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo