Australia v Pakistan, Champions Trophy, Group A, Centurion September 30, 2009

Unpredictable v unyielding


In the last ten or so overs in Centurion was found the very essence of Pakistan and Australia as cricket nations, and their beauty. It is why people love one country and so respect and fear the other. That another nation could have benefitted from this almighty slugfest adds to the value of this ICC Champions Trophy.

There is not a country in the world that can pull off, even precipitate, the kind of crazy that Pakistan did here, let alone with the regularity that Pakistan does it. It is unique and it is theirs to unveil when they see fit. They have done it across the ages, in most countries, in all conditions, against all opposition and it is a thrill unlike others. Usually it happens at least likely moments when the game is drifting.

Today, Australia was toughing it out, chasing a small total, but there was a sense, even if a fleeting one, that a wicket might just do something. It was there today and it has been there on many such occasions, in Multan in 2005 against England, through the 1992 series against the same opponent, very often against New Zealand, also in South Africa in the early-to-mid 90s. Even when Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey were grinding along, so well were Pakistan bowling and so sluggish was the track that one wicket was going to make it, just one.

So Ponting then fell to an outstanding catch in the deep, which is often how these things emerge, to take on a life of their own. It happened during the 1992-93 Hamilton Test where an Asif Mujtaba reflex-stunner at short leg lit up the mother of all disintegrations. It happened against the same opponents just a few months back, on neutral territory, where Shahid Afridi's catch turned the match on its head, as well as the tournament itself. Sometimes it is a run-out.

And then everything changes. Fielders become panthers, more alert; bowlers sharpen their eyes and hone in on the length, and batsmen panic, as if they have suddenly discovered that the person lying down next to them for years is in fact someone else entirely. Rana Naved-ul-Hasan bowled two maidens in a row during the death overs (and gave just one the over before), having already beaten Hussey with a yorker so good, even he didn't see it hit the stumps. Mohammad Asif, just back from hell, snuck out a two-wicket over; Umar Gul came back to bowl the last over of the game cold, having not bowled since the 15th over of the chase, yet promptly produced yorkers as if he had been in the nets practising them non-stop in the interim.

Fielders were diving around, the captain was trying to keep a lid on things and Australia lost six wickets for 47 runs in just over 14 overs: magic. Waqar Younis wasn't around and Wasim Akram was only in the commentary box, having just been inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame, but they lurked over this period.

That Pakistan fell just short is precisely what makes Australia, Australia. Immediately after the game, Ian Chappell explained it: Australia never beat themselves. He has said it before, but it does not diminish any on repetition. They just do not implode as other teams might under this kind of tension. You have to beat them, for they will give you nothing and there is almost always someone who will not lie down and succumb to the madness around them.

Brett Lee and Nathan Hauritz did it here, Lee somehow squirting a drive off an outside edge through cover for a boundary, when Pakistan were favourites with 18 needed off 18 balls, off a ball he didn't pick. Countless others have done it before him. Any team other than Australia, Younis said later, would have bottled it, in a blaze of poor shots.

"I didn't think it was going to go this close with 20 overs left to be honest," Ponting said. "We sneaked over the line and we're through to the semis, the stage we wanted to be at."

Of course they did and of course they are, because they always are, irrespective of what any rankings might say. Fortunately for everyone, it took the tightest match of the tournament for them to do it.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • RQ on October 1, 2009, 23:29 GMT

    (contd.) lastly i'd say... why is Pak so down when they are against Aus... Pak can beat any team anytime(just look at SA, Ind, SL), why not Aus but it's all about Pak team mind setup... i'm not saying Aus isn't the best team ---> they are very tough & one of a kind... but all i'm saying about is the attitude that should be changed... [P.S.] generally speaking, if a team is going to lose, they'll lose anyway but atleast they should show their brave efforts & courage so that their fans/supporters don't get hurt... [a Request to OSMAN SAMIUDDIN] there is a need of site for Pak team where people can make Healthy Suggestions & Positive Feedback, perhaps, you can help us to contact the Pak team to suggest them about this! so that the public can communicate/interact efficiently with the team... the team will get suggestions, feedback, public demands & conversely they can clarify/explain the happenings/things...

  • RQ on October 1, 2009, 23:08 GMT

    (contd.) why don't PAK change their attitude when they already have got brilliant approach in playing against all other teams?.... they sent Misbah instead of U. Akmal, maybe because in the previous game after that fabulous & aggressive partnership b/w Muhd. Yusuf & Shoaib Malik & no significant runs were made by the rest... perhaps, Yunus was planning to repeat the same thing, but it didn't work out... he'll learn it along with time... @Pak Bowling - they were not sure in the beginning but later they fought very well till the end... @Pak Strategy - if Pak intentionally didn't play well against Aus, it wasn't a smart thinking after all... although it may take benefit out of it in the near future but will feel pressure if they come against Aus in final @Aus Batting/Bowling - no doubt about their professionalism, everybody knows it! you make a slight mistake, they'll take advantage of it... (contd.)

  • RQ on October 1, 2009, 22:12 GMT

    @OSMAN ---> great article @PAK vs AUS ---> a thrilling game & great stuff from both of the teams... I'd like to share my opinion here: @Pak Batting: They didn't play well & showed as if they've come to the crease to lose ---> either of 2 reasons IMO: (1) Pak were already through to semi-finals, so they wanted to play semi-final against Kiwis, against which their records/chances of playing well & getting to the final through them are easy (maybe they didn't want to take any risk in their semi-final against England)... (2) Pak has no good records against Aus in the recent past, especially after 99'WC ---> they go dull when playing against Aussies, i don't know why? AUS has become like bogeyman team for PAK after 99'WC... why don't they realise their true potential & why don't they stick to their instincts ---> to me, they are misguided by someone or maybe some bunch of people... (contd.)

  • Shafiq on October 1, 2009, 18:30 GMT

    Kmran & Osman

    Can you please make us undestand, how n earth Dilshan won the T20 performance of the year? not the Afriis all rounder display and gul's 5 or 6 could win it.....Why ICC wants to destro pakistan cricket and world cricket.

    2. Why Fawad Alam & Muhammad Aamir were even not considered for emerging plaers awards? is debut century against Mendis in their home turf, is making Dilshan a duck in the crease in a world cup final, and winning world cup is not a fair performance to even be considered from Pakistan teenagers.

    3rd and the most important: The Spirit o cricket Award: Ater all the hell of last few years, the way pakistan team has added generally t world cricket, and especially the 180 million of pakistan, after all the terrorism and then drugs etc...the way pakistan team come up, giving pleasure in the deserts o UAE, in England, in Sri Lanka----do any other team deserve spirit of cricket award more than pakistan?

    what a shame ICC, you have degraded yourself?

  • Dhumper on October 1, 2009, 18:24 GMT

    Coeurlion wrote "As an Australian, whenever Australia play Pakistan, I always get edgy". Same here being a Pakistani. I always get edgy when we play you. We can choke the life out of any country, be it South Africa, India or Srilanka, but when it comes to Australia we always have to go that extra yard before they go down. Pakistan and Australia are definitely 2 of the best teams out there currently and most entertaining! Wishing for a rematch in the final and a PAK win!!!!! but if not then a close last ball deal and then who ever wins!

  • Rashid on October 1, 2009, 17:23 GMT

    Mr. Osama, you summed it very well - the talent and ability of Pakistan and the consistency of Australians. I've never seen Rana bowl so well. Only if he culd do it more consistently he could be the most dangerous bowler in death overs. He seems to be a different bowler since he got the hair plant - may the additional weight on his head has something to do with that. Since the times of Wasim and Waqar Pakistan has got the reputation of being most dangerous in death overs and finishing the tail very quickly. I'm glad to see the same reputation being revived here. Those criticising Younis should realize that he is the one who was instrumental in getting everything together. There is always room for improvement which may be positive - if Pakistan can further improve in key areas then they would be unbeatable. Way to go Pakistan!

  • Nadeem on October 1, 2009, 16:12 GMT

    Good article Osman Bhai..Pakistan is GREAT, but i feel the Captain has to lead from the front in all areas or at least one. Younis may be a lucky Captain, but i do not believe he is good Captain. His recent decisions to put himself first to bat with Aus/Pak ahead of Umar, giving Umar Gul bowling in Centurion against India when he was useless, not continuing on with seamers in Wanderers with West Indies are personal decisions and not those that favour National Cricket interest. I do believe in this day and age, all 11 players have to chip in, as cricket has become very competitive. I along with others do not agree with the happy go lucky attitude of Younis Khan, especially for a Nation wrecked with problems, where cricket is not only the sole passions but the only glimmers of hope. I honestly believe that people will be OK if they see a good fight, no matter what the end game. We have the capabilty to remain at the top, if personal egos, favours and parchees are avoided.

  • Deepanjan on October 1, 2009, 14:56 GMT

    Being an Indian, I had ulterior motives for watching this match. Thankfully though, all those permutations of NRR went out of the window once the match kicked on. Indeed, as Pak bowlers made the ball talk and fielders found their tigerish prowl, it was 100% gloriously .. well, Pakistan. The only thing predictable about them is that they'll conjure up something magical. Then again, they were against Aus. Not for them the monotony of SA - but Brett Lee and Hauritz can anyday be more than Albie Morkel and Botha. Reputations and rankings be damned, only exceptional individual performance(s) backed with solid team performance can melt Australia; to outplay them you need to outlast them. Good luck to both the teams !

  • Roger on October 1, 2009, 14:20 GMT

    To ekasraz, it shows your poor understanding of the game. A keeper standing up to the pace of a Nathan Bracken or a Praveen Kuman makes sense but not when Umar Gul is bowling. Gul was right on target for the final over and there is nothing better he could have done. At the end of the day, Aussies have the never give up attitude which makes them so dangerous no matter how depleted a side they may be.

  • dfg on October 1, 2009, 13:34 GMT

    pieces of edgbaston 1999 were playing in my mind during the final over. but to be fair,though pakistan lost,they were the actual winners of the contest.pakistan cricket is back to good old days of akram's near akram has returned in the form of mohammad aamir to international cricket.these guys have another reverse swing sultan by the name umer gul.rana naved is simply an immaculate bowler but he has been all but just a shade unlucky. gifted is this pakistan team packed with dynamos of talent. god bless them.

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