T20 cricket is a game of the finest of margins and team Pakistan were on the receiving end of their semi-final defeat against Australia. Heading into their knockout clash in Dubai on Thursday (November 11), Babar Azam and co were the only unbeaten side at this year’s ICC T20 World Cup.
But their dreams of winning their second T20 World Cup were shattered by a resurgent Australia. Put into bat after Aaron Finch won the flip of the coin, Pakistan posted an impressive 176/4 on the board in their quota of 20 overs.
Azam’s side seemed to be on the top after dismissing half of the Australian side for 96 runs around the 13th over mark. But Pakistan did their best impersonation of England who had crumbled a day earlier, defending a total of 166 against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi.
The toss has been a massive factor at this year’s tournament, offering a crucial advantage for a side batting second. While Australia were lucky to win the toss, that was just one part of their sensational five-wicket victory over the most dominant side at this year’s tournament.
Pakistan entered the semifinals against Australia as strong favorites. However, they failed to break their losing streak against the Aussies in the knockout stages of the ICC tournaments. Thursday marked their fifth consecutive defeat in such a scenario against Finch's side.
Babar Azam and his team will rue over an excellent opportunity lost to win their second T20 World Cup. But they have every reason to feel mighty proud of their performances at this year’s marquee event.
Australia, who were circumspect and vulnerable at the start of their campaign, gathered steam along the way, peaking at just the right times. Their win over Pakistan should give them a lot of confidence ahead of their final against New Zealand on Sunday (November 14) in Dubai.
While neither team played exceptional nor dismal, there were a few factors that eventually turned the tide in Australia’s favor. Let’s take a closer look at these factors which played a cumulative role in deciding the outcome of the contest.
#3 Did Pakistan miss the trick by consolidating too much in the middle overs?
Batting in the middle overs has been a struggle, especially while batting first, throughout this year’s T20 World Cup.
Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan have been prolific at the top of the order throughout the Super 12 fixtures for Pakistan. They did not disappoint in the semifinal against Australia as well, stitching an opening partnership of 71 runs off 10 overs.
They raced to 47/0 at the end of the Powerplay, their best tally of the tournament within the power play. However, thereafter, despite losing just a solitary wicket, Pakistan managed to amass 106 runs at the end of 14 overs, scoring just 59 runs off the next eight overs.
One can understand Pakistan’s strategy of conserving wickets and consolidating in the middle overs to give themselves the best chance of finishing strong. In hindsight, though, they may have missed the trick by consolidating too much.
Perhaps Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman should have been proactive, taking calculated risks in the middle overs. Despite keeping wickets in hand, it felt like they left too much for themselves to do in the end. Considering the dew factor and relatively better conditions for batting in the second innings, Pakistan should have aimed for a bit more from their middle overs.
Pakistan kept wickets in hand throughout their innings. Yet they managed to score just 176 on a good batting strip. It was a competitive total for sure, but certainly not a match-winning one. Had Pakistan managed to extract more out of their middle overs while batting, the outcome of the contest might have been different.
Ifs and buts don’t count in sports, but performances do, and results are in front of us.
#2 David Warner’s counterattacking innings at the top
After his captain Aaron Finch departed for a golden duck in the first over, the onus was on the southpaw to weather the storm from Pakistan’s quicks. Warner did that emphatically, producing a counter-attacking knock of 49 runs off just 30 deliveries.
Alongside Mitchell Marsh, who batted at No.3, Warner gave his side stability and great impetus. The duo scored runs quickly, putting pressure back on Pakistan’s bowlers.
Imad Wasim’s second over, the fourth of the innings, was the catalyst as Warner unleashed himself on the left-arm spinner. The 35-year-old clobbered Wasim for two boundaries and a six, helping his side collect 17 runs. Warner’s counterattack brought his side back into the run-chase after three quiet overs that saw his opening partner Finch return to the pavilion as well.
He saw Finch, Marsh and Steven Smith depart at the other end, but Warner's controlled aggression propelled Australia to 89/3 at the end of 10 overs.
It was unfortunate that Warner did not review his caught behind appeal against Shadab Khan. Replays confirmed that there was daylight between the bat and the ball, but the 35-year-old had done his job by then.
#1 Cumulative effect of Wade and Stoinis’ clean hitting, Pakistan’s off-day with the ball and sloppy fielding
Australia’s wicketkeeper bat Matthew Wade, walked to the crease at 96/5 with Australia still needing 81 runs off 46 balls. He joined Stoinis, who was also relatively new to the crease, in the middle.
Australia needed 62 runs off the last five overs. At that point, the game seemed to be in Pakistan’s control. But as Wade and Stoinis warmed up to their task, Pakistan’s quicks began to crumble under pressure.
Hasan Ali was the weak link in this Pakistan attack, and everybody knew that. Wade took a special liking to Ali, demolishing the pacer at the death. Stoinis and Wade smashed Ali for 27 runs off his final two overs, clinically diffusing Pakistan’s challenge.
But the wheels entirely came off Pakistan’s target defense when Wade, displaying power, finesse and tactical acumen, took Shaheen Afridi to the cleaners. Pakistan’s premium pacer was smashed for three consecutive sixes in the 19th over to propel Australia into their second T20 World Cup final.
Harsh it may sound, except for Shadab Khan and to a certain extent Imad Wasim, Pakistan had an off-day with the ball. Their quicks ignominiously crumbled in death overs when they had to be at their best.
Even more crucially, when Australia still needed 20 runs off the last 10 balls, Hasan Ali dropped Wade at the mid-wicket boundary. The straightforward chance that went begging was the nail in the coffin for Pakistan, while also summing up Ali’s dismal day.
The ICC T20 World Cup is the only white-ball trophy that’s missing in Australia’s glittering trophy cabinet. Their Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand await them in the final. Both sides will lock horns in pursuit of their maiden T20 World Cup title in Dubai on Sunday (November 14).