Pakistan v Australia, 2nd Twenty20, Edgbaston July 6, 2010

Afridi's spirit the difference for Pakistan

There was no drama. No last minute dash past the tape. Instead it was a compelling performance from a confident team led by a spirited leader

There was no drama. No last minute dash past the tape. Instead it was a compelling performance from a confident team led by a spirited leader. It is funny that despite being the world champions in the format twelve months ago questions were being raised at the outset today about Pakistan finishing on top of this two-match series against Australia. Yes, there is no denying the fact that, like Roger Federer or Rafa Nadal, Australia possess the skill and mental discipline to crush any opponent any day but based on Pakistan's aggressive performance Monday evening there was never a doubt about who entered the arena more positive.

Australia seemed cagey from start to the finish. Pakistan seemed more sure and precise in what they did. In the end Michael Clarke fell short of reasons behind Australia's defeat. Shahid Afridi, his opposite number, glowed with pride in the gloaming, as he was more decisive on both evenings while defending a par score. He was the single biggest reason behind Pakistan's self belief and it is easy to forget his tactical nous considering the enfant terrible he has been in the last decade.

For Afridi, in addition to his own performance, the biggest challenge was to get every player in the squad to read from the same page - something Pakistan teams have never been famous to do. But once the Pakistan Cricket Board had dealt firmly with the happenings in the aftermath of the disastrous Australian tour and given Afridi the captaincy; he has not wasted time to make his mind clear. Together with his coach Waqar Younis and the selectors, Afridi charted a plan which encouraged the inclusion of youngsters. And despite his eccentricities, Afridi remains a good mentor.

Importantly, Afridi knows his winning unit. Shoaib Akthar might not be completely fit to consistently feature in all the three formats but Afridi has shown faith in the maverick speedster. Hence it did not matter that Shoaib had been taken to the cleaners by the Davids - Warner and Hussey on Monday. He returned today charged by the vociferous crowd and steamed in with a renewed vigour that brought back memories of the bowler who once could hold an entire stadium enthralled. Today Afridi did not break Shoaib's rhythm with a three-over first spell. Though Shoaib managed just one wicket, he troubled the batsmen with bounce, with movement with changes of pace.

At the other end the exemplary young talent of Mohammad Aamer continued to flourish as the left-armer got a wicket in first over for the second evening in a row. With his ability to control the swing and also bend the ball at will at optimum pace Aamer is easily one of the most destructive bowlers in cricket. Afridi had worked out his plans precisely where he knew he would save his three best bowlers - Aamer, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal - for the final five to six overs. These are his go-to men.

Australia needed 52 runs off the final six overs with the Hussey brothers looking dangerous. Ajmal straightaway got in his most favourite weapon - the doosra - which the younger Hussey (David) failed to read and returned a simple catch. Afridi was unhappy when Ajmal sent a long hop to debutant Steve O' Keefe, who duly smashed it past the cover boundary. But O' Keefe was involved in a run out a ball later and Ajmal finished with impressive figures of 1 for 26. Next over Gul kept his nerves, despite being hit by Michael Hussey for two fours off the first two balls, bouncing back with a a lethal yorker from round the stumps and wide off the crease, which the Australian erroneously tried to reverse sweep and was declared plumb. Aamer took his second three-wicket haul in two days first delivery of the next over, trapping Mitchell Johnson leg before.

Like a babysitter Afridi never left the bowlers alone - he walked towards them virtually after every ball, cajoling them, patting them and at times directing them what to do when the bowler failed to carry out the instructions. Obviously the twin victories have now put Pakistan in a positive frame of mind ahead of the two-match Test series, starting at Lord's next Tuesday. But this result will hardly have a bearing on that, something the Pakistan think tank is well aware of. Waqar was understandably guarded. "[It is] still early days. It is a good start. A win always gives us the momentum," he said. Still the opponent will be wary now.

"We can learn a lot form the way they bowled at the death," Clarke said in praise of the Pakistan bowlers, before going on to single out Gul who he felt was "outstanding". "They missed him during the World Cup. You have to be at your best to beat a team like that," he said.

It takes a lot to stir Australia. For the moment, without getting carried away, Pakistan can be proud.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 12, 2010, 2:31 GMT

    I am from Bangladesh and enjopyed watching cricketers like Zaheer abbas, Asif Iqbal, Inran Khan, Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram and these are the greatest cricketers. Simialrly, India has produced many great cricketrs and probably all time greatest (Tendulker). It will be foolishg to compare Umar Akmal with Tendulker. It is almost impossible until one palys 20+ years and achieve what Tendulker achieved. I lkie Omar and I agree has has skill and talenet but it will be pre-mature to compare him with any great player. Pary that he can play 15+ years without injury and only then you should compare him with other great players.

  • imtiyaz uddin on July 10, 2010, 19:01 GMT

    go afridi go..........................................

  • imtiyaz uddin on July 10, 2010, 19:00 GMT

    i love shahid afridi captaincy till now,,and i wants to be more aggressive in field as welll in character...................

  • Samad on July 10, 2010, 8:15 GMT

    Truly Afrid's spirit the difference in Pak.. Afridi is a very good leader and his enthusiasm and energy make him a great leader, he is the only one whi can change the current scenario of pak cricket and could get some help from Waqas Younis, This test series will be a good test for pak temprament, then only we can rate them in the "Spirituals of Cricket"

  • Dummy4 on July 8, 2010, 7:44 GMT

    I am sorry but it's too early to compare Umar with Sachin. Give this kid few years to prove himself. We have seen where Irfan Pathan is now days although he was compared with Great Akram during his Aus tour. Not just Umer but Aamer is also very good prospect and any team would like to have such talent.

    As an Asian I suppuort not only Pak but SL and Bangladesh too against likes of Eng and Aus but there is a fact that I am a proud Indian and always support my country in all sports whether we win or lose :)

    Jai Hind .... Kamaljeet Singh

  • Talha on July 8, 2010, 7:40 GMT

    Oh come on people, stop the rhetoric. Pakistan is the number 1 team in T20 and India the number 1 Test team, PERIOD. There's skill involved in all the formats, so please don't say it's a fluke. I agree that test matches are the pinnacle and only when Pakistan beats a good side like India, Australia, South Africa or England in a test series can we call ourselves a team for all formats. Until then please be humble and accept the realities.

  • Dummy4 on July 8, 2010, 5:45 GMT

    Being an Indian, I dont have problems in comparing Umar with Sachin, He def possess some of the characterstics of Sac, He has fearless attitude against best bowlers, got a great technique & spirit, he plays all around the wk, for me he is the next sac. He is yet to play in his home ground, he has played all around the world the world & scored runs. I would like to see more of him in future

  • Dummy4 on July 8, 2010, 4:10 GMT

    @ wanderer India have last won an away series against Aus in Aus in 2008 in CB series and not in fluke T20 format like pak. And when was the last time Pak won a match not sereis against Aus at home or away in ODI or Test? think about it. India have last beaten Aussies 2-0 in 2008 in India test series. So we have beaten them in both test and ODI.

  • fahad on July 8, 2010, 2:44 GMT

    To all you Afridi bashers, check out his test record. A batting average of 37 with a strike rate of 86 with 5 centuries in 20 odd tests already. On top it he has a bowling average in the low 30s. Dont you remember that bashing he gave you indians in the bangalore test last time he played against you !

  • Dummy4 on July 7, 2010, 22:01 GMT

    @Mohammad...We definitely are not jealous of Pak for a simple reason that we rate our team much higher...And it is not necessary to accept a fact when it is not...Pak is a really good 20-20 side...Accepted...Nothing more...Atleast until they sort out all the issues. lets look at the test results after the 2 test series ! I really want to see your comments here after that...I like pak team but not the politics...I am an Indian but my fav bowler till date is Akram and my fav all time all rounder is Imran Khan..But current pak team has a long way to go and this 20-20 doesnt matter at all

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