No Pakistani player was as ridiculed coming in to the tournament as Misbah-ul-Haq, whose selection at the expense of Mohammed Yousuf, Pakistan's record-breaking run getter last year, drove the latter into the lap of the Indian Cricket League. He might return home as Pakistan's most celebrated cricketer from the Twenty20 World Cup.
Pakistan have almost qualified for the semi-final, and it came on the back of a performance so controlled and clinical that it could have belonged to the team they beat. Australia, judging from what Adam Gilchrist had to say at the post-match press conference, are yet to embrace this format wholeheartedly and they are far from invincible in this form, but there was nothing remotely flukeish about Pakistan's win. They out-bowled, out-batted, and would you believe it, out-fielded Australia.
There was a coolness to their victory which was almost un-Pakistani. There was no deadly burst from one of their quick bowlers and no frenzied hitting from one of their explosive batsmen; instead it was a sustained, and a near flawless performance from a team given to extremes. And no one typified it more than Misbah, who, at 33, has found a second life in the most unlikely form of the game.
For the second successive day, Pakistan found themselves four wickets down for very little. But as Misbah said later, such situations are almost routine for a middle-order batsman, and the only thing he told himself was that he needed to stay there till the end. There was the small matter of scoring 119 runs at just over 9, but he had with him his captain, who had played a vital hand in yesterday's revival, and the two set about to dissect the Australian attack.
|There was a coolness to their victory which was almost un-Pakistani. There was no deadly burst from one of their quick bowlers and no frenzied hitting from one of their explosive batsmen; instead it was a sustained, and a near flawless performance from a team given to extremes. And no one typified it more than Misbah, who, at 33, has found a second life in the most unlikely form of the game|
It was Malik who led the charge with a four and six off Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark before targeting Michael Clarke for two fours and a six. Misbah didn't hit a four until his 19th ball when he gave Nathan Bracken the full view of his stumps before lofting over extra cover. The next shot was even smarter: Bracken shortened his length, and Misbah waited on the backfoot to deftly guide it to the third-man boundary.
And he effectively sealed the match in the 15th over from Andrew Symonds with fours, scored in three different directions. First the reverse sweep, then the cut, and finally the pull. The over produced 17 runs, and from here it was nearly a run a ball.
Earlier, it had taken an impressively controlled bowling performance to keep Australia in check. No bowler went for more than 35, and every time Australia looked like getting away, they were reined in. At the end of eight overs, they were 79, but the next five produced only 22 at the cost of two wickets. Shahid Afridi even bowled a wicket-maiden.
By the end of the 17th over, Australia had accelerated again through Michael Hussey and Brad Hodge. But Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif gave away just 14 runs in the last three. Gul's last two overs cost only ten, and both Gilchrist and Malik singled it out as the match-turning performance. But the truth was Pakistan had many heroes today.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo Magazine