Misbah and Malik script six-wicket win
A dazzling 119-run partnership between Misbah-ul-Haq and Shoaib Malik, two of Pakistan's batting heroes from earlier in the tournament, inspired a famous six-wicket victory over Australia, a triumph that almost certainly sealed their place in the final four. After the relentlessly accurate Stuart Clark had reduced Pakistan to 46 for 4, Misbah and Malik took the bowling apart, rollicking along at 10 an over.
The spade work for victory had been done with a disciplined and enthusiastic fielding display that complemented a remarkable bowling effort from Sohail Tanvir. His deceptive left-arm pace accounted for Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Hussey, and though the Australians recovered from mid-innings doldrums, the late surge never materialised.
Having started their partnership in circumspect fashion, Misbah and Malik opened out with some magnificent strokes. Malik took the initiative early on, chipping Clark over midwicket for six, and then taking two fours and a six from a Michael Clarke over that went for 17. Misbah was tapping the singles at that stage, but once he lifted his tempo, the game was Pakistan's for the taking.
With Ricky Ponting off the field nursing a left hamstring strain, Pakistan had started the pursuit brightly, with Imran Nazir punching Nathan Bracken over square leg for a six, and Mohammad Hafeez pulling Brett Lee for another maximum. But yet again, the momentum wasn't maintained, and the arrival of Clark at the bowling crease changed the complexion of the match.
Bracken was the first to suffer, lofted over cover and then precisely late cut for four. And when the expensive Andrew Symonds was brought back, he reverse-swept for four before leaning back and cutting for four more. There were more punishing pulls and gorgeous shots down the ground, before the coup de grace, a massive 111m six off Bracken with 11 needed. And given Australia's sloppy fielding display, it was somehow appropriate that the game ended with an attempted Symonds bouncer that was called wide.
Gilchrist had earlier cut, driven and flicked Australia to the customary rapid start after Hayden clipped Tanvir straight to midwicket, but when he miscued one to point after cracking 24 from just 12 balls, Pakistan scented their chance. Symonds though had other ideas, coming in and bludgeoning the ball on both sides of the wicket with awesome power. There was a delicate back cut off Shahid Afridi too, as Symonds and Ponting threatened to take the match away.
It was the spinners though that started the slide. Afridi bowled a superb over where he had Ponting nearly stumped twice, but his disappointment was assuaged by the wicket of Symonds, bowled for 29 going for a huge swipe. With Hafeez also keeping it tight and Umar Gul coming on to bowl a superb over, Pakistan tightened the tourniquet with 2 for 22 in a five-over spell. The second of those wickets was a struggling Ponting, heaving against the line to give Hafeez a wicket.
Michael Hussey took his time to play himself in, but Brad Hodge was straight away into his stride with a pull and a clip through midwicket. They then spoilt Afridi's figures somewhat as Hussey smacked a huge straight six before two fours from Hodge made it 15 from the over. The 50-run partnership took just 32 balls, but Pakistan's bowlers ensured that there would be no final flourish, having both men caught in the deep going for big hits.
Hussey was deceived by a great slower ball from Tanvir, while Hodge didn't get enough on a straight loft off Mohammad Asif. With Afridi running out Clarke with a fabulous throw from point, the last three overs fetched Australia just 14 runs. That was to prove critical as Pakistan once again made light of their top-order frailty to stake their claims for a berth in the final stages of the tournament. As for Australia, now humbled twice in this competition, they face a winner-take-all encounter against fellow World Cup finalists, Sri Lanka.
Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo