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All-round Australia set up knockout clash against India

Wisden India logo Wisden India 25-03-2016

Australia seemed to have hit upon the right batting formula in their 21-run win against Pakistan in a crucial Super 10 Group 2 game of the ICC World Twenty20 2016 at the PCA IS Bindra Stadium in Mohali on Friday (March 25).

They brought in Aaron Finch for his first game in the tournament in place of Mitchell Marsh, and demoted Shane Watson to No. 6 to add depth against Pakistan’s pace trio, along with replacing John Hastings with Josh Hazlewood to exploit the weaknesses of the opposition batsmen against pace and bounce. All of them proved to be the right moves.

Watson, who would be retiring from international cricket after the competition, made Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Sami and Mohammad Amir look ordinary in the death overs during his unbeaten 21-ball 44, Steven Smith helped himself to a crafty undefeated 43-ball 61, and their unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 74 runs in 6.2 overs took Australia to 193 for 7 – their second-highest total in the history of World T20. After that, Khalid Latif made 46 but James Faulkner’s career-best figures of 5 for 27 kept Pakistan to 172 for 8, ending their semifinal hopes.

Very experienced in these conditions, Watson, who was batting at No. 6 for only the third time in his T20I career, hardly took any time to get going after taking strike in the 14th over. He got under the deliveries and used his muscle power to collect four fours and three sixes.

In his first duel with Riaz, who recovered from an injury to replace Mohammad Irfan for this game, since the famous face-off in the 2015 World Cup quarterfinal, Watson emerged as the winner. The rivalry was renewed in the first ball of the 16th over when Watson dabbed one to third man for a single. His generosity ended there as the next one, a short ball, was pulled to the square-leg fence.

Watson also picked up Amir’s length early to hit his first six, and when Riaz came for his final over, Watson lofted him over the cover fielder for a boundary.

Watson was strong on both sides of the wicket, and consistently found the big shots, allowing Smith to run hard between the wickets and collect the odd boundary to maintain more than a healthy strike rate.

The shot that stood out in Smith’s knock was when he exposed his stumps to Riaz, but the bowler responded with a lame leg-side full toss and Smith dispatched it for one of his seven fours.

Before the pair came together, things were on an even keel as Pakistan struck at regular intervals. Usman Khawaja started the game with a few attractive back-foot shots before Shahid Afridi introduced Riaz. Having been hit for a four in his previous delivery, Riaz bowled a full and straight delivery to hit the wickets when Khawaja tried to create some room.

Riaz struck in his next over again when David Warner failed to withdraw from a cut shot at the last minute and was bowled off a fast incoming delivery. Afridi’s next bowling change worked, too, as Imad Wasim accounted for Finch with an arm ball.

At 57 for 3 in 7.2 overs, Pakistan were in control, but Smith and Glenn Maxwell, a local boy through his affiliations with Kings XI Punjab, anticipated the length of the bowlers well to add 62 in 6.2 overs. Maxwell’s straight six off Sami after having pulled him for a boundary indicated that he was in the zone. But Wasim had him caught for 30 at long-on.

Pakistan’s chase was rocked at the top as Ahmed Shehzad and Sharjeel Khan got out to Hazlewood and Faulkner against the run of play within the Power Play overs, but Pakistan’s first 50 contained eight fours as the batsmen kept playing their strokes.

Umar Akmal’s brisk 32 ended when he missed a straight ball from Adam Zampa and was bowled playing a sweep shot. That brought Afridi out for what was possibly his last innings for Pakistan, and, like in his entire career, he entertained the big crowd with two huge sixes before Zampa pulled his length back to have him stumped for a seven-ball 14.

Once Afridi, who had earlier bowled well for his 4-0-27-0, walked back to the dugout in the 14th over, Pakistan’s campaign was effectively over.

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