In a tournament already loaded with low scoring matches, and in a season dominated by Australian wins, there came another contest at the Melbourne Cricket Ground today to reinforce the pattern. Against Pakistan this time (and in the fifth match of this Carlton and United Series), it arrived under the imprimatur of a six wicket win with 13 deliveries of a rain-reduced contest to spare.
Assuming the rare guise of a day match in Melbourne (all the other games at this venue in this series are day-night affairs as indeed most have been here over recent seasons), this encounter initially consolidated another convention too. Namely, that was the maintenance of the almost inextricable relationship between rain and the MCG in the 1999-2000 season - the start delayed by two and a half hours as a patient crowd of 37,325 waited for the heavens to clear themselves of persistent drizzle.
When the action finally began, Australia struck the first and possibly even the most crucial blow of the entire day when it won the toss. This afforded its bowlers the opportunity to expose the current fragility of Pakistan's top order again in humid, overcast and generally bowler-friendly conditions. Duly, Pakistan's batsmen then endured a torrid beginning - bounce and sideways movement in abundance through the early overs. It did not take long for the difficulty of the task in surviving the new ball to be revealed. Recalled opener Wajahatullah Wasti (8) departed in the fifth over when he was unable to fully cover the line of a Glenn McGrath delivery which reared off a length and attracted his outside edge. And, as if the task was not arduous enough with which to begin, matters became even worse in the ninth over, when Ijaz Ahmed (0) was the victim of a very doubtful lbw decision from umpire Peter Parker after being struck high on the front pad by a Damien Fleming delivery.
There came a recovery in the middle of the innings from Saeed Anwar (49) and Yousuf Youhana (20) and again at the end from Abdur Razzaq (51*), but the die was essentially cast from that point. In fact, it said much about the extent of the visitors' problems that more than half of their wickets were lost to the unlikely combination of bit-part bowlers Shane Lee and Andrew Symonds. Offering little in the way of anything other than standard medium pace, it was Lee (3/24 from eight overs) and Symonds (2/27 off his eight) who essentially tore the heart of the Pakistani effort. In the space of eight deliveries at one point, the two made three vital breaks; Anwar (49), Youhana (20) and Wasim Akram (0) all finding ways to get themselves out when rigid application and concentration should have been the order of the exercise. That Lee was then able to induce the dangerous Moin Khan (5) to swing a ball straight down the throat of Damien Martyn at deep square leg - another wicket thereby gifted in a manner which even the bowler himself probably would have been scarcely able to believe - only reinforced their impact in an innings in which the score ultimately meandered to 9/176 at the completion of the 41 allotted overs.
As paceman Shoaib Akhtar (2/32 off eight overs) made yet another dramatic entrance, the Australians suffered a rash of early problems of their own - the score tumbling to 3/38 around the departures of Adam Gilchrist (21), Ricky Ponting (0) and Mark Waugh (12). Introduced in the fifth over (with the score having already reached 32), he rewrote the script with his very first delivery by convincing Umpire Simon Taufel to rule that a marginal lbw decision against Gilchrist should go his way. Just three balls later, he was irresistibly at it again; inducing Ponting (0) to launch a loose drive at a scorching off cutter and edge a catch to Wasti at second slip. Suddenly, Pakistan was alight; Youhana's pick up and throw from square leg to run Waugh (12) out in the seventh over after a terrible mix-up with Michael Bevan (3*) confirming that they could suddenly do no wrong and the match was well and truly alive.
From there, though, Pakistan's bowlers failed to make another incision and Australian captain Steve Waugh (81*), Martyn (39*) and Bevan (15) led their team to the sort of regulation win that had been anticipated prior to those three brisk dismissals. After a relatively forgettable first three matches of the series with the bat, man of the match Waugh played an innings of great substance and, typically, offered just the degree of patience and level-headedness required in the situation. It was not a hand filled with great strokes necessarily (although some of his driving through the off side on occasions was brutal in its extravagance), but his nudges, cuts and glances were exactly what were demanded against an attack that was shuffled repeatedly, and which operated manfully in its quest for an unlikely success.
And whilst it was not a completely perfect display, because Waugh was probably the guilty party in the run out of Michael Bevan (15) and he was also badly missed by Moin off Saqlain Mushtaq's bowling with his score at 60, it was certainly well and truly satisfactory enough to take his team to the top of the Carlton and United Series table for the first time this season.