Mumbai: Self-belief is often the key difference between winning and losing in sport. On Thursday evening in Dubai, Australia displayed a ‘never say die’ spirit to win despite being cornered for most of the match. The Aussies came back from the brink to beat Pakistan by five wickets, thanks to a brilliant counterattack by Matthew Wade and Marcus Stoinis in a sensational semi-final. The superb turnaround led to an unbelievable victory for the Aussies as a stunning flurry of blows inflicted in the ‘death’ overs by Wade and Stoinis left Pakistan shell-shocked in the end.
The 2nd successive thriller, after the pulsating England-New Zealand Semi-Final, underlined the basic truth that the margin between winning and losing a T20 game is often so small and slim that even the most discerning cricket experts would find it impossible to predict who will triumph in closely-fought contests.
Aggressive Aussies v/s Passionate Pakistan was the most intriguing, tantalising clash of the competition. It was a match-up that the cricket cognoscenti were discussing ever since the semi-final lineups were finalized. Strangely, the Aussies were the underdogs while Pakistan was the favourites to go through to the finals after their 5 consecutive and convincing wins.
Aaron Finch, the Aussie captain won the toss and decided to field first. Pakistan’s opening pair of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan after a few shaky overs got them off to a steady start. While Rizwan tried to up the ante, Babar anchored the innings carefully. Australia tactically did not bowl Mitchell Starc for more than an over in the powerplay. They were playing a bowler short and it was evident that they wanted to let their part-time bowler Maxwell have a go while Pakistan was still building a foundation for a hitting spree later.
The Pakistani openers have been consistently brilliant throughout the tournament but on the day they were a tad cautious which later proved costly. Despite not losing too many wickets, their innings couldn’t get an explosive lift off until Fakhar Zaman came into bat. After initial hesitancy, he flowered in this vital game. In the last few overs, it was fabulous hitting by Fakhar that saw Pakistan posting a slightly above-par total though this was possibly one of the best batting surfaces of the competition.
On the Aussie side, the pacers were a disappointment but leg spinner Adam Zampa was the pick of the bowlers. His terrific spell held the Pakistani batsmen in check in the middle overs and he also grabbed the first wicket, the prized scalp of Babar. At half time, Australia would have derived strength from New Zealand’s chase of an almost similar total against England on the previous night. They got off to a terrible start as Finch was dismissed by Shaheen for a 1st ball duck. Adam Warner was the crucial key for an Aussie chase and in partnership with Marsh, he got the innings off to a fighting tempo. Their 51-run partnership in less than 6 overs had Babar worried.
But a brilliant spell of leg-spinning magic by Shadab Khan pegged the Aussies back. Smith fell early but Warner continued his fluent hitting until he was caught behind. Strangely, the replays showed a gap between his bat and ball, even the Snickometer revealed a flat line. Warner had not asked for a review and had walked straight back. Now, the match swung in favour of Pakistan as Maxwell disappointed and the Aussies crumbled to 96 for 5.
It was at this crunch moment that Matthew Wade joined Marcus Stoinis with their side needing 81 runs to win in just 46 balls. They had a mountain in front of them but climbed it steadily till the target was near and then frantically finished with a stunning win. Wade hit Shaheen Afridi for 3 consecutive sixes to finish the match with an over to spare!
The Aussie run chase was strikingly similar to the one by New Zealand in the first semi-final. The result was identical, a victory by five wickets with six balls to spare. Pakistan may have some regrets – especially about Hassan Ali dropping Matthew Wade in the 19th over bowled by Shaheen. Had the catch been held, Australia would have needed 20 from nine balls with just four wickets remaining. Instead, it became 18 from nine and as Wade hit a hattrick of 6s, the Aussies won in just three balls with 6 balls left!!
It’s said that history repeats itself. As Pakistan crashed out, many were reminded of what Mike Hussey did to Pakistan in 2010. Matthew Wade has repeated it for them in 2021. Pakistan, tipped by most experts to get their 2nd T20 World Cup title, was cruelly ousted in a few overs of batting at its brutal, brilliant best. The Pakistan team and their fans are bound to be heartbroken but they can be proud of their campaign till it came to an abrupt end.
After losing to Pakistan, Virat Kohli had spoken about the difficulty in posting a strong total after losing quick wickets. But repeatedly the top teams have shown the need to continuously stay aggressive in this format. There is plenty to introspect for India as the Rahul Dravid-Rohit Sharma dispensation takes over. And Team India can do it well too since they are back home after an early exit from the World Cup.
After this amazing win, the Aussies will be charged up to grab their 1st T20 World Cup, the one ICC title that has eluded them till now. Fans can expect another cracker on Sunday as both New Zealand and Australia have beaten tournament favourites to stride into the finals.
No matter who wins, we will have a new champion for the men’s T20 World Cup on Sunday as neither Australia nor New Zealand has ever won this title. As the traditional rivals square off, the title clash promises to be a grand finale to a thrilling World Cup!