Just when it appeared all over for them, Pakistan staged a spectacular comeback to stun Australia in a Group 2 match here at the Sher-e-Bangla National stadium on Sunday.
Chasing Pakistan’s massive 191 for five, built largely on the back of a blistering 94 (54b, 9x4, 4x6) by Umar Akmal, Australia looked on course for a winning start to their campaign before they folded up for 175 to suffer a 16-run defeat. The loss, which seemed inevitable at one stage, would have severely jeopardised Pakistan’s semifinal chances after their Friday’s reversal against India.
Having set a steep target, Pakistan couldn’t have asked for a better start to their defence when left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar, who replaced left-arm seamer Junaid Khan, ejected opener David Warner and Shane Watson in the opening over of the chase. With two of their biggest hitters back in the hut, the target became even more daunting for Australia as Pakistan sensed a big win. Glenn Maxwell (74, 33b, 7x4, 6x6) and Aaron Finch (65, 54b, 7x4, 2x6), however, mounted a counter attack that left Pakistan dazed. Maxwell and Finch held sway over the proceedings for almost 11 overs thereafter during which Australia clobbered 118 runs.
Maxwell was particularly brutal against all comers and none felt his fury more than paceman Bilawal Bhatti, whose opening over leaked 30 runs. When Maxwell got out, Australia needed just 66 of 50 balls with seven wickets in hand, a cake walk in this format. But the rest of the batsmen collapsed like a house of cards, unable to handle the four-pronged spin attack. After a disappointing batting display against India in the opener when they were restricted to a below-par 130, Pakistan came up with much-improved performance led by the talented Umar. The younger of the Akmal brothers, reprieved on 22 by Brad Hogg who grassed a straight forward catch at fine-leg, punished the Australian attack with utter impunity.
He was particularly severe against Nathan Coulter-Nile and part-timer Aaron Finch as he plundered 45 runs off 21 balls bowled by the duo. He didn’t spare Mitchell Starc either to send the Australians on a leather hunt. Doug Bollinger, who replaced the injured Mitchell Johnson for the tournament, was the only bowler to be spared by the Pakistani batsmen who enjoyed a rare largesse from the Australian fielders. As many as three catches, and all eminently takeable, were put down but none proved more costly than Umar’s. Australia appeared to have made the right decision after they reduced Pakistan to 25 for two in the fifth and restricted them to 36 in the Power Play after winning the toss.
The Akmals, however, turned things around in stunning style with no little help from the butter-fingered Aussies. While Umar went on the rampage, Kamran played the ideal foil, giving majority of the strike to the former. The duo added a whirlwind 96 for the third-wicket in just 52 balls to put Pakistan on a course for a mammoth total that they achieved with Shahid Afridi striking an unbeaten 20 off 11 balls (2x4, 1x6) towards the end.