Friday, March 20, 2015

Hazlewood and Smith Seal Semi Final Spot For Hosts Australia

Australia vs Pakistan at Adelaide Oval, Adelaide on 20th March 2015 - Match Review

Australia Won by 6 Wickets.

Misbah Ul Haq won the toss and decided to bat first. The blueprint for Pakistan to score a win against Australia was a simple one, get around 270 runs and then unleash their bowlers to do the rest. Josh Hazlewood was brought in for Pat Cummins as he is more in the mould of McGrath and has control over his line and length.

Sarfraz Ahmed and Ahmed Shehzad started cautiously and rightly so as the suffocating line of Hazlewood and the pace of Starc did not offer them easy fodder. Sarfraz was just getting in some rhythm when he chased a wide one off Starc and Watson grabbed a super catch at 2nd slip. Shehzad followed soon and Pakistan was in strife at 24-2 after 5 overs. Misbah walked in, yet again summoned to the crease early and yet again he went about doing his business with a zen like calm. His calmness rubbed on the Zing Bail which refused to fall after a ball from Hazlewood had just brushed the leg stump. Only for a fleeting moment did it get out of the groove, lit up; perhaps saluting the crisis man of Pakistan and then silently fell back in to the groove again.

Misbah along with Haris Sohail was beginning to restore some parity to the score, Pakistan were even looking like a team that was just ahead but just then Misbah; who had hit Maxwell for two sixes over mid-wicket fell trying to repeat the dose. Haris fell soon after driving casually away from his body and offering Haddin a simple catch. The perennially talented Umer Akmal followed in the footsteps of Misbah as he too fell to a long hop from Maxwell trying to clear the short square boundaries of the Adelaide Oval.

Out walked, Shahid Afridi, possibly for the last time in his career, with his team in trouble and in a Quarter Final match but started as if he were having nets as he plundered 4’s and 6’s off his first 5 balls. He made a whirlwind 23 off 15 balls and fell to a slapped pull shot of Hazlewood, Finch having a merry time on the mid-wicket boundary.

Wahab had hit an important fifty against Zimbabwe and he was welcomed to the crease by Starc by some incessant chatter as Wahab played and missed a few. ‘It’s a Little White Thing!! Try to Hit that’ Starc shouted to Wahab and Wahab responded with a few boundaries off Starc. He was also the beneficiary of 5 overthrows when Johnson threw at the non strikers end unnecessarily. Maqsood and Wahab both departed with the score on 188. The last wicket partnership added 18 runs and Pakistan were all out for 213.

Warner began in a hurry and was creaming balls through the off side with pure timing. Finch was stuck in front of the stumps by Sohail Khan and he wasted a review after consultation with David Warner. Australia seemed to be cruising when Misbah introduced the quickest bowler of the World Cup 2015, Wahab Riaz. He made an immediate impact as Warner was caught at third man by Rahat Ali, a brilliant catch. Michael Clarke has an antique back and has problems with the short ball. Wahab had him fending at one and Misbah had a short leg in place who accepted the dolly with glee.

That was the start of the most brutal spell of fierce and nasty display of bowling by Wahab Riaz. He bowled brute after brute as Shane Watson, a fine puller and hooker of the cricket ball was ducking and fending balls off his throat and head. The balls either just evaded his head or landed short of the fielders until one reared up on him and he pulled instinctively. Rahat dropped a simple chance and the Pakistani shoulders drooped. Wahab had given his heart out in that spell and it was definitely the best fast bowling spell that I have witnessed.

Shane Watson was locked in an epic battle with Wahab Riaz 
in the Quarter Final at the Adelaide Oval

At the other end Steve Smith was just going about his business without any fuss, hitting balls through cover or flicking them off his pads while charging to Afridi and hitting him against the turn too. Sohail Khan and Rahat Ali were unable to keep up the quality that Wahab had displayed. Ehsaan Adil picked up Smith as he went across his stumps once too often to be leg before wicket. Wahab was brought back and he bowled an absolute rip-snorter to Glenn Maxwell as the ball ballooned towards third man where Sohail Khan ran in confused and just got his fingertips to what should have been a simple chance. Everyone in that ground must have felt a soft corner for Wahab at that moment as he was left disconsolate by the catching of his mates.

Watson soon hit the winning runs and held his arms out and let out a cry of victory but there was also a relief from him that he still had his head on his shoulders after his battle with Riaz.

So Australia moves in to the Semi Final where they will meet India at SCG. As for Pakistan, their bowlers tried hard enough but once again it was the batting and definitely their fielding that had let them down. The match also brought curtains on Misbah Ul Haq, a man widely criticized for his slow batting but who I always believed was the glue that held it together. Boom Boom Afridi also played his last match and he played his innings just like he has played countless ones before this match. These two will always be remembered for their contributions to Pakistan Cricket but just like Mahela and Sanga a few days earlier, they were denied a fairy tale ending.

PS - The image used is courtesy www.espncricinfo.com

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