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May 14, 2010
This is what makes a champion side and don't Pakistan know it. In 40 overs Australia re-taught their opponents the lessons of four days in Sydney from earlier this year, the moral of which remains that till the precise moment Australia are out, they are never out. Pakistan were on top for three days in Sydney, and 39 overs here, but Australia hunted away, gripped in, stuck at it. And with one ball to go, they pulled off an astonishing chase of 192 to enter Sunday's final, leaving on Pakistan the deepest kind of scars in an already abusive relationship. On this form, England needn't bother turning up.
Michael Hussey was the man in Sydney and he was the man here again, his captain Michael Clarke calling him, justifiably, a "freak," afterwards. Like Michael Bevan on speed, he pulled off an improbable heist, having come in at 105 for five in the 13th over, with too much needed and not enough wickets in hand. But as he crescendoed with 38 runs from the last ten remarkable balls of the game, he completed what must be - with little doubt - the finest innings of its kind in the short history of this short format; it is only hoped that Shane Warne was watching.
Australia were mostly out of it when he had walked in. Cameron White, as fearsome a T20 hitter as there can be, had been scaring Pakistan until then with some monstrous hits, but a regular fall of wickets lulled Pakistan into false hopes. Even the batsmen who had fallen earlier had done so while blazing away, a trait as Australian as Vegemite.
Five sixes in five overs from White had come from the 11th onwards, but Pakistan's spinners still kept a lid on things and when Saeed Ajmal bowled a five-run 14th, it seemed a crucial one. Australia still needed 70 from five and when White fell, it seemed over. But Hussey had already gotten his eye in, pulling Shahid Afridi for a pair of key sixes, and a mirage of momentum remained.
Advantage Honours even
Thereafter he did Hussey things, running hard, placing the ball infuriatingly well so that when he prepared his final onslaught - 34 needed off two overs - it wasn't an outlandish task. Aamer was picked up on the leg-side for two boundaries, which sandwiched four hard-run doubles in between in the 19th. When he pulled the second ball of the last over for maximum, the force was fully with him. The next ball went down the ground, then a sliced cut trickled away, and aptly the finish came with the 14th six of the innings.
Until then, it had looked that for the second year running, Pakistan would fell the behemoth of the day in this tournament, with all the assurance of men who know the force is with them. Their run has been the subject of much sniggering but the one truth they have shown about global tournaments and this format is that it is all about timing and they almost got it right here.
Fear had played a huge role in their recent run against these opponents of 11 straight international defeats. It seemed to have been shed by their batsmen initially. Predictably, the Akmal brothers had much to do with it; the elder Kamran took responsibility at the top, before the younger Umar provided an almighty burst at the death.
Clarke, in overcast conditions, decided to bowl first after the start was delayed half an hour; Afridi would have done likewise but they had planned this smartly. His openers decided the best policy against such an attack was to simply bide their time, a plan loaded with as much risk as sense. But after two overs of nothing - as much time as you will get in this format - Akmal went first, choosing to play bad cop to Salman Butt's good.
Dirk Nannes was sliced and then driven down the ground to begin the fun. Butt joined in, taking on Shaun Tait with a brace of typically lush off-side shots and when Akmal ended the over with a pull, Pakistan were beginning to stamp it. For the first time in the tournament, Tait and Nannes had failed to strike in their opening bursts and Pakistan were well on the way to the best opening start against Australia by some distance.
Change came in the bowling, but not the batting. Steven Smith was slogged for 15, Akmal mistiming him straight down the ground for a maximum that brought up the fifty. Two overs later, as he bludgeoned 18 off Shane Watson, lofting, driving and cutting, he was bringing up his own fifty. Every now and again Butt would provide a gentle reminder of his presence, slicing and dicing a cute flick or cut here and there.
Very briefly momentum stalled as the openers went, but it was at this moment Umar decided to show the watching world once again the range of his talent. As sure of himself as a young rockstar, he went at Australia without fear. Intent had been announced with a slog-sweep off Smith and Nannes was then deposited in a similar area for a maximum, before being scooped over fine leg.
A glorious, brief peak came in Mitchell Johnson's 18th over, in which Umar, with all the arrogance of youth, pulled and slog-swept three sixes. A second consecutive fifty came in between the carnage. Even the generally meek Khalid Latif was bitten by this bug, a useful six-ball cameo ensuring that Pakistan pumped it to the end. Australia looked mostly shocked at such impudence, bowling wides, fumbling byes and overthrows.
When Hussey finished it less than two hours later, they were still shocked, only in a very different way.
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