The familiar thrill of Pakistan's win-conjuring trick
Like the World Twenty20 2012, Pakistan came up against Australia on Sunday right after a meek display against India. Once again, they played like the Pakistan side fans expect, showing that it was the pressure of an India game that brought out all the diffidence two nights ago. The intensity was not close to the levels of the Premadasa in October 2012, but the similarities were there.
That evening, Pakistan had to win, and win big, to make the semi-finals ahead of India. This evening, a loss would not have knocked them out of the tournament, but would have still left them teetering on the brink. Both times, Pakistan batted first. In 2012, they made 149 and defended it with such ferocity Australia were out of it long before their chase meandered to a feeble end. In 2014, Umar Akmal sent them rocketing to 191. Then Australia lost two wickets in the first over. This is where the similarities would end.
Pakistan are usually all over the chasing side after such a batting effort and a successful start with the ball. Until Glenn Maxwell happened. He swept six after six, each blow hacking away at Pakistan's spirit. Not even Saeed Ajmal and his doosra were spared. Bilawal Bhatti went for 30 in one over. The asking rate had come down to 7.5. When anything and everything your bowlers come up with is swatted for six, it is an understatement to say that it is demoralising. And Pakistan did what probably any side would have done in the face of such an assault, for a while at least. They were rattled. They dropped catches.
Akmal had already brought them back once in the match, after a rather weak start. Are two comebacks possible in a T20 match? Maybe they are, when Pakistan are making the comebacks. The asking rate for Australia was still extremely manageable, around eight, when Maxwell finally hit one that failed to clear Ahmed Shehzad in the deep.
Suddenly, it was as if the elusive combination of a safe had been cracked. Suddenly, bowlers who had cost so many runs until now found suffocating lines and lengths. Suddenly, fielders who had been fumbling and putting down straightforward chances seemed to spring up wherever the ball went and pounced on it. A gigantic wall had sprung up out of thin air to block Australia's smooth progress. All Australia's batsmen were managing against it were scores of 4, 2, 8, 0, 3 and 3.
When you come from a generation that grew up watching Pakistan conjure wins out of sheer will, you expect that to happen even now. Everything has changed - times, personnel, the game itself. That expectation, though, refuses to go away. And although the frequency may have dipped, Pakistan are still capable of conjuring such victories, as they showed tonight.
Amid such vintage Pakistani thrill at the end, what Akmal achieved at the start should not be overlooked. He caught Pakistan by the scruff and dragged them out of the abyss they had fallen into against the Indians, and one they threatened to slip further down into at 25 for 2. Akmal had all the intent and aggression that had gone absent against India.
It is tempting to the see the patterns for Pakistan in this match - from Akmal's dominance with the bat to Babar's controlled opening with the ball to the commanding closing by the team. There is the small matter of Maxwell's massive scare in the middle. To the faithful, Pakistan were always going to find a way around him. To those who aren't, Australia gave it away under pressure. Either way, there is no denying the swiftness, the finality and the thrill of that wall Pakistan constructed.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo