This mercurial Pakistan side had shown their best side with an impressive Test victory at Old Trafford followed by an exciting one-day triumph at Edgbaston, but their balloon was deflated by Australia today in the second game of the NatWest Series at Cardiff.
With Pakistan stalwarts Yousuf Youhana (91*) and Rashid Latif (66) batting their hearts out in the face of an outstanding bowling arsenal, Pakistan finally managed to pile-up a good 257 after a disastrous start.
But the victory target of 258 was not testing for the accomplished Australian side, especially on a wicket that behaved like a 'batsman's paradise'. They romped home for the loss of three wickets with Ricky Ponting (70), Michael Bevan (56*), Steve Waugh (54*) and Mark Waugh (47) the stars. Australia won because of a thoroughly professional attitude and their skill in all departments of the game.
Waqar won the toss and elected to bat first, but then had to watch as Pakistan lost three wickets for only 44 runs. Shahid Afridi, who still seems to be at war with bowlers, trying to hit every ball for four, succeeded only briefly. Trying another big hit he edged and was brilliantly caught by Mark Waugh off Brett Lee for 11 and Pakistan were one down for 14.
Smartly stumped by Adam Gilchrist, both Abdur Razzaq (9) and Inzamam-ul-Haq (0) fell victim to the guile of Shane Warne in his first over. Inzamam seemed to be upset by the two close fielders posted by Steve Waugh, and trying an early big hit without a feel of the game, and against the best leg-spinner in the world, was left hopelessly stranded. Upon reflection, it was an almost suicidal shot.
All hopes rested on Saeed Anwar, who was facing the Aussie onslaught with some confidence. Dropped in the slips when four, he was expected to play a long innings. To Pakistan's horror he was next to go, for 35, providing Ian Harvey with his first wicket of the match: 65-4.
Two more wickets fell quickly. Younis Khan (13) and Azhar Mahmood (0) leaving Pakistan on a disappointing 85 for 6. Australia were in full command with their superb bowling and fielding combination successfully exploiting Pakistan's loose batting.
But an enterprising stand between Youhana and Latif brought some hope for Pakistan. Starting slowly, they stole singles and pushed the ball into the gaps before accelerating past their own half-centuries and the 200 mark with growing confidence and command. They added 124 in all, collecting 66 runs in 10 overs at one stage, and ensuring a competitive total was set the World Champions.
Rashid Latif was finally run out for 66 but skipper Waqar Younis (14), lent his support to Youhana. Though Youhana was unable to complete his well-deserved century, his gallant innings of 91 not out elevated Pakistan to respectability.
Shane Warne had claimed three wickets, Glenn McGrath and Ian Harvey grabbed two apiece, and Pakistan knew that a disciplined performance in the field could bring victory.
Australia lost an early wicket, when Shoaib Akhtar bowled Adam Gilchrist, beaten for pace, with only 20 runs on the board. As usual, Pakistan's field placing was far from perfect and although Shoaib Akhtar bowled at a frightening pace all his loose deliveries were soundly punished. Inzamam dropped Mark Waugh in the slips off Waqar and then watched as he went on to form a strong partnership with Ricky Ponting, bringing up the hundred in just the 16th over.
The Waugh-Ponting partnership yielded 92 runs in 88 balls, until Mark Waugh went for 47 (112-2) and Ricky Ponting completed his individual 50 immediately after. Pakistan were not helped by the absence of wicket-keeper Rashid Latif on the field, hurt while batting and Younis Khan was not in the same class behind the stumps.
Off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq was brought on rather late and did account for the most important wicket of Ponting but only after he had raised Australia to a position of strength by played a thrilling innings of 70 runs.
The next pair of Michael Bevan (56*) and Steve Waugh (54*) was as strong and confident as the earlier batsmen. With the bowlers not deriving any support from the pitch, the batsmen headed inexorably towards the target. 258 for 3, scored in 45.4 overs, and Australia had rolled over Pakistan by seven wickets. Shoaib Akhtar, who had to leave the field with an injury, Abdur Razzaq and Saqlain Mushtaq shared one wicket each.
For his prolific 70 Ricky Ponting was declared Man of the Match. By showing near perfection in all departments of the game Australia proved themselves to be a highly professional side. Watch out England!