Akhtar, Akram prove too hot to handle
Whatever the future of off-season international matches in Australia - and no-one is yet sure what the long-term holds - their earliest protagonists have at least wasted little time in marking them with brilliant individual performances and the
Whatever the future of off-season international matches in Australia - and no-one is yet sure what the long-term holds - their earliest protagonists have at least wasted little time in marking them with brilliant individual performances and the perpetual thrill of an unexpected outcome.
Two years ago, Australia and South Africa perfectly split a winter series with one win apiece and a tie in their three games at Colonial Stadium in Melbourne. And, although Australia's second foray into off-season contests only occasionally looked like concluding in similar equilibrium, the hosts' status as pre-tournament favourites was again undone today by a hard-working and committed group of tourists.
Ultimately, high-octane pace bowling from Shoaib Akhtar (5/25) and breathless lower order strokeplay from Wasim Akram (49*) were the keys behind Pakistan's decisive 91-run win at the 'Gabba. They thus became the latest in a range of high-quality contributions from players among the visitors' squad during the course of their 2-1 victory in Super Challenge II.
Living up to pre-series hype that has only intermittently been made to look overblown, Akhtar was simply outstanding as his team defended a score of 7/256 during the series-decider's evening session. In the moments that he wasn't required to hurl himself into the path of balls in the outfield, and receive treatment for niggling pain in his right shoulder, his modus operandi was to spend a busy night wringing five wickets out of a bouncy pitch.
It was the collection of the first four of those scalps - in the space of a thunderous 23-ball blitz - that effectively put this game on ice.
The manner of each dismissal was different but all were significant: Ricky Ponting (10) bowled as he drove across the line of a blistering inswinger; Darren Lehmann (0) shuffling too far across his crease and losing his leg stump; Damien Martyn (14) failing to ground a cut and top-edging to third man; and Michael Bevan (10) magnetically drawn into following a leg cutter and edging to the wicketkeeper.
He later returned to trap Jason Gillespie (0) with a yorker as a Shane Watson (44*)-led Australia fought in vain to bridge the gap between the teams.
Akram (1/27) also played an important role in the evening session, kickstarting Australia's slide on a cool Brisbane night. An excellent new ball burst accounted for Matthew Hayden (5) and partially restrained the ever-dangerous Adam Gilchrist (20) in the lead-up to the latter batsman's run out from a direct hit by Yousuf Youhana at mid on.
Albeit that Akram's input with the ball failed to match an earlier cameo at the batting crease that had prevented Pakistan's innings from haemmorhaging in a manner to rival Australia's later problems.
The indefatigable Pakistan all-rounder used the occasion of a world-record equalling 334th one-day international appearance to help smear a jaw-dropping 79 runs from the closing eight overs of the innings. Few of Australia's bowlers were spared punishment - spearhead Glenn McGrath (0/48) even forced to watch in horror when 23 runs were belted from his final over - as Akram joined with Youhana (61*) to add 88 runs in a crucial unbroken stand for the eighth wicket.
Akram's career hit a low ebb when allegations of his potential involvement in match-fixing surfaced in the late 1990s; thankfully, however, it is for the sublime rather than the ridiculous that he continues to be renowned. His ability to tame batsmen of all standards and on all manner of pitches remains a calling card; extravagant hitting in the lower order is also an enduring trademark.
Two consecutive sixes over McGrath's head, and a welter of boundaries, flowed here as he batted with an air of confidence and a sense of destruction that was only previously spotted among his teammates in the latter stages of a 94-run stand between openers Imran Nazir (66) and Saeed Anwar (26).
By the close of Pakistan's display, a cautious start and a mid-innings collapse had accordingly each become distant memories for a crowd numbered at 11,612.
In frequently exceeding the 150 kilometre per hour mark during Pakistan's defence of its score, Akhtar's deliveries were then only matched in pace by the rapidity with which batsmen were replacing one another in the middle.
With a similarly plucky Shane Warne (31), the strapping Watson ultimately stepped in to haul the home team back from potential humiliation at 6/83 with a half-century stand for the seventh wicket. It was a brave and determined rearguard response in the circumstances. Alas, for Australia, it was also not nearly enough.