Friday, May 8, 2009

Pakistan v Australia, Twenty20 International, Dubai

Gul and Afridi demolish Australia

The Bulletin by Sidharth Monga

20 overs Pakistan 109-3 (Akmal 59*) beat Australia 108 (Watson 33, Gul 4-8, Afridi 3-14) by seven wickets

Umar Gul took a wicket first ball, Shahid Afridi took two in his first two balls, and Australia imploded bizarrely after a flying start from Shane Watson. From 42 for 0 in four overs Australia went to 73 for 5 and 108 all out, a target Pakistan chased down easily after an early wobble. Australia had fielded almost a second XI, and played like that.

The first innings of the match was as frenetically eventful as the second was assured and sedate. Gul's 4-0-8-4 was just one run off the best-ever figures in Twenty20 internationals. Afridi followed his double-wicket maiden with another wicket and nine more runs in the next two overs, as the Australian batsmen kept playing for the non-existent spin. The collapse was just as spectacular as Watson's onslaught on Shoaib Akhtar and Sohail Tanvir. It was ironically a missed inside edge by Aleem Dar that started the slide.

No less a bizarre innings would have been fit for a day when the match started one-and-a-half hours after the toss while waiting for Dubai's Sheikh, an esteemed guest for the match. A day when Younis Khan pulled out at the 11th hour because of fever. A day when Misbah-ul-Haq, the stand-in captain, said at the toss that Younis stepped down to give Fawad Alam an opportunity.

The delayed start didn't affect Watson, who seemed to be carrying on from his century in the final one-dayer. He started the match with an outside-edged boundary off Shoaib, didn't get much strike for the next three overs, and exploded in the fourth. He carted Tanvir for back-to-back boundaries through midwicket, and pulled the next to deep backward square leg. In four overs, Watson had reached 33 off 13 deliveries, with Misbah seeming out of sorts.

He was in complete control, though, hurrying the introduction of perhaps the best Twenty20 bowler in international cricket. With his first ball Gul went level with Daniel Vettori, with most wickets in Twenty20 internationals. The ball swung in late, hitting Watson in front, but for the inside edge that Dar missed. Gul would soon go past Vettori.

The breakthrough achieved, Misbah took Gul off and turned to his spinners, who have troubled Australia all series. James Hopes went for a slog sweep off Afridi first ball, and missed. Andrew Symonds saw Afridi running in to him as soon as he lifted his head after taking guard. This one was a straighter one too, and Symonds was clearly late in a half-hearted prod.

In Afirdi's next over, Hussey went on to cut a fullish topspinner and played it on. When Australia's new captain, Brad Haddin, chipped Shoaib Malik straight to long-on, Australia were in absolute tatters. The lower half had the small matter of Saeed Ajmal and Malik's doosras and Gul's reverse-swing to negotiate, but there was always going to be one winner.

Gul took three wickets in his second spell, bowling Brett Lee and Marcus North with perfect late inswingers. Between them Gul and Afridi took 7 for 22, and the last 16 overs yielded just 66.

The only hope then for Australia was that the pitch was a touch double-paced, and they raised hopes of a close match by removing the Pakistan openers for 23 in four overs. But without a target to build pressure, the spinners were always going to find it tough. Kamran Akmal, just like Watson, carried forward the good form from his match-winning century in the last ODI, and Misbah finished a perfect night as captain with a responsible 24.

Nothing about Kamran suggested there was any panic in the air. The third ball he faced he square-drove Brett Lee powerfully for four, and his stability thereon ended the contest. His occasional square-cut boundaries kept Pakistan ahead of the modest run-rate required, and it was not until the 14th over - with just 32 required - that he had some fun. Hopes was the unfortunate bowler pulled over long-on and scooped over fine leg for consecutive sixes. When he reached his half-century, Kamran - a new father - celebrated with a baby-rocking gesture; he had played with the responsibility that befits a father.

Hauritz finished the match with a wide down the leg side, and Australia were yet to beat Pakistan in Twenty20 internationals: they lost their first meeting too, during the World Twenty20 in 2007.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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