It was a thundering victory for Waqar Younis led Pakistan, in the last league match, over Australia at Trent Bridge. Although Australia faced a huge victory target of 291, it was in no way beyond reach. Except, in the way stood Waqar, the one-man demolition squad to devastate Australia's strong batting line for 254, hoisting a 36 run victory for Pakistan.
Although there were a couple of encounters in this tournament that extended thrills till the last ball, the excitement that this match generated will also be remembered by cricket lovers for a long time. There were some magnificent feats of batting from both sides.
While Saleem Elahi (79), Yousuf Youhana (44), Adam Gilchrist (70) and Steve Waugh (56) will be remembered for their tenacity in facing heavy odds, Waqar Younis will find a place in the annals of cricket for his magical haul of 6 for 59 just two days after his record 7 for 36 against England.
Earlier in the game, Pakistan elected to bat on a pitch seemingly designed to favor batsmen. The track, however, proved so marginally. Saeed Anwar and Salem Elahi started shakily but collected runs through fluent shots all over the field. Punishing Jason Gillespie for a blistering drive to point boundary Saeed hoisted 50 of the innings in the 12th over.
For the first time in this tournament Pakistan crossed the half-century mark without losing an opener. Australia struck back for a vital breakthrough when Saeed Anwar was trapped lbw by Brett Lee after scoring a brilliant 34 when Pakistan were at 61. Soon followed Abdur Razzaq (5) making his way back at the total of 71.
With Saleem Elahi going strong at 38, Pakistan reached 100 of the innings in 20 overs. Playing all round the wicket with growing confidence Elahi completed his 50 in 67 balls with the help of 7 fours. He received tremendous support from Yousuf Youhana who, with a sizzling cover drive off Shane Warne hoisted Pakistan's 150 in 30 overs.
Continuing to bowl his deceptive leg breaks and googlies, Shane Warne eventually succeeded in drawing a solid looking Yousuf Youhana (44), out of the crease and Adam Gilchrist did the rest. The Elahi - Youhana partnership yielded invaluable 93 runs in 101 balls.
Shane Warne played magic again when he trapped Elahi lbw after a back-in-form innings of 79 bringing Pakistan to 190 for 4. Younis Khan was the next to depart after scoring 22. Pakistan was nicely poised for a big total at 207 for 5 in 39 overs. But the 6th wicket fell at 233 when Faisal Iqbal (12) was run out and the scoring slowed down.
When Pakistan was 250 with 5 overs remaining, the game was suspended due to crowd problems again, this time a firecracker thrown into the ground and Steve Waugh decided to take his team off. He had announced already that player safety must be ensured. After about 15 minutes of disruption play started but the tempo of scoring was broken. Extremely controlled and tight bowling restricted stroke play. While Azhar Mahmood contributed 15 runs, Rashid Latif played an aggressive innings of 26. Some cricket fireworks were seen when Wasim Akram contributed an unbeaten 28 in 15 balls.
The batsmen going all out for runs, the last 10 overs conceded 80 runs. Pakistan thus ended the innings with 290 for 9, setting Australia a challenging target of 291. Brett Lee, Shane Warne and Andy Symonds shared 2 wickets each. Interestingly, and not taking any credit away from Pakistani batsmen, it was unusual to see Australia's fielding not as good as in previous encounters.
Against all expectations, Australia made a disastrous start at the hands of a giant like Waqar Younis. He made short work of Mark Waugh and Mathew Hayden both earning ducks followed by Michael Bevan (5), bringing Australia down to what looked like a hopeless 35 for 3.
But there came skipper Steve Waugh to join an aggressive Adam Gilchrist to not only stem the rot but jointly punish the bowlers with a flurry of shots to the boundary raising the score to 50 in the 7th over. Gilchrist, playing some attacking cricket hoisted his individual 50 in just 29 balls. They took the score to 100 in 12 overs and the situation was now well under their control.
The introduction of spin worked wonders when Saqlain Mushtaq clean bowled Adam Gilchrist after he had almost neutralized the loss of the first 3 wickets by playing a marvelous innings of 70 in 43 balls. Gilchrist brought Australia out of crisis and for Pakistan was a highly prized wicket.
Saqlain struck again when he made Damien Martin (2) offer an outside edge to Azhar Mahmood in the slips, rendering Australia to 113 for 5. But led by Steve Waugh with Symonds as his partner Australia reached 150 in 21 overs and Pakistan appeared to have lost its grip on the match. The fielding had become loose with unchecked drives to the boundary becoming routine plus too many wides and no balls being bowled.
Once again, playing a captain's innings, Steve Waugh completed his 50 in 63 balls. But immediately after, got a life, when he was given not out on a ball from Azhar Mahmood. The electronic indicator confirmed it. Luck did not favor him any further when Waqar bowling his 2nd spell, held one back and had him caught out for a resolute 56.
After scoring a valuable 35 Andy Symonds became Waqar's next victim reducing Australia to 190 for 7. With Pakistan back in the game, Australia came under tremendous pressure and a stiff battle between bat and ball ensued. The spectator stands were enthralled and excitement rose further when Waqar clean bowled Brett Lee (10) with a straight delivery. Australia was 208 for 8, looking for the tail to prevent the inevitable.
Shane Warne who held the crease for quite long for his 14 runs was the next to go and with Australia on 223 for 9, Pakistan was almost on the edge of a grand victory. While defeat for Australia was written on the wall, the last pair Damien Fleming and Jason Gillepsie defied well, with skill and courage to delay the passage of fate.
The long wait by Pakistan to win one against Australia came to an end when Abdur Razzaq bowled Jason Gillepsie at 254 after 46.3 overs. Pakistan won the thrilling encounter by 36 runs. With a match-winning haul of 6 for 59, Waqar Younis was the chief wrecker while Saqlain Mushtaq accounted for 2 important scalps along with Azhar and Razzaq sharing one apiece.
Defeating the world champions and the team fancied by all and sundry has provided Pakistan a fresh impetus to face them again in the final. With this changed scenario, Australia's victory cannot now be taken for granted. Pakistan will be a tough opponent and both teams have an even chance to carry off the NatWest Trophy at Lord's on the 23rd. So let fans of both teams keep their keep their fingers crossed.