All-round Symonds sees Australia through
Andrew Symonds may have cut his Rastafarian beads, but he showed tonight there had been no cutback on his competitive spirit or his aptitude as Australia levelled the series 1-1. His two-wicket over, in the face of a marauding Shoaib Akhtar, had kept Pakistan down to a par total, but his bigger contribution came with the bat when Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal threatened to run through Australia for the second time in a row.
Afridi and Ajmal had undone James Hopes' good work at the top, bringing the game right back into the balance, when Symonds came in to bat. Hopes, filling in for the injured Shaun Marsh at the top of the order, had put Australia on their way to a chase of a tricky 207, before Ajmal and Afridi struck in back-to-back overs.
The contest was always going to come to life when the spinners came on. Before that Hopes had weathered the storm from hostile and accurate Shoaib and Umar Gul. That initial spell resulted in the early wicket of Brad Haddin, but Hopes counter-attacked and brought the run-rate within manageable proportions.
From 19 for 1 in six overs, Hopes cut and drove Gul and Shoaib for three boundaries and a six in the next three overs. Australia reached 70 for 1 in 14 overs, when spin was first introduced.
Australia tried to play the mind game, going for the batting Powerplay immediately, and trying to delay the introduction of the dangerous spinners. Pakistan played ball, and went on with Afridi and Ajmal anyway. From 70 in 14 they moved to 91 in 20 in a tense period of play.
In the 21st, Ajmal got Watson with a doosra, the batsman looking to pull without reading the spin. In the end Watson tried unsuccessfully to pull out of the pull, and top-edged. In the next over, Afridi beat a Hopes sweep with a straight and full delivery.
Batting was not easy then, what with Test fields in place and the ball turning big, and Australia coming off a monumental collapse in the previous game. Ajmal and Afridi attacked, but Symonds tackled them superbly. Even early on in the innings, he picked Ajmal's doosra. For good measure he let Ajmal know every time he saw the away-spinner. His 58 comprised only four boundaries and a six, the first of which was the team's first boundary in 17 overs.
The value of Symonds' knock grew when put in comparison with his partner Michael Clarke's effort. Clarke struggled to pick the spin, and was patchy all the way through. At one point, out of a 58-run stand Clarke had scored only eight.
Symonds' sensible batting also coincided with Pakistan gradually running out of the spinners' quota, and with a small total to defend they had to bring back the pace bowlers on. Once that happened it was a cruise for Australia, with close to four an over required.
Even that small target was thanks to Symonds' effective over at the death. Shoaib's 14-ball 25 had lifted Pakistan from 176 for 7, but just when it looked he would take Pakistan to a more competitive total, Symonds struck with two in the 46th over to not even allow them a full quota of 50 overs.
That was not the last twist of a slow yet dramatic first innings of the game. A disciplined Australia had done well to pull Pakistan back after they had threatened twice to move out of their grasp.
First it was Younis Khan who recovered from a sluggish start to get into fluent mode only to be dismissed for 28. Then Shahid Afridi played an uncharacteristically responsible innings, but when he looked set to launch Pakistan into the safe zone, Hopes got him with seven overs to go.
Following the early run-out of 17-year-old debutant Ahmed Shehzad, Pakistan made an edgy start. Salman Butt and Younis were literally edgy against Nathan Bracken and ODI debutant Doug Bollinger, both left-arm seamers. They troubled both the batsmen with their angle and movement both ways. By the end of the ninth over Pakistan had crawled to 28 for 1, having faced a maiden each from both the bowlers.
With Hopes came the change of angle, and Younis helped himself to three boundaries in his first two overs. In the next seven overs Pakistan doubled their score, mainly via Younis who scored 20 off 14 during that period. The sight of Ben Laughlin lit his eyes up, a short loosener first up widened them further, and an edge resulted as he went to cut the leather off the ball.
Two more wickets, punctuated by an especially asphyxiating spell by Bollinger, meant Pakistan were struggling in the middle overs, five down for 122. Bollinger went for 26 in his 10 overs, including a middle spell of four overs for five runs.
But then Afridi lifted them, not looking to hit the ball out of the ground every time he faced up. The main feature of his innings was his late-cuts, and placement for quick runs. He actually faced 40 balls, the most he has since his 52-ball 85 against Zimbabwe last January. Afridi also read the game well, picking a slower ball early during the Powerplay, when Australia had both third man and fine leg up in the circle. That was his only six. Afridi, along with Ajmal, provided Australia with a tough examination, but he was not the best allrounder on the night.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo