It almost felt like an unwarranted script was unfolding, especially with India’s game against West Indies not too far away at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. Australia collapsed from 140-2 to 187-8 until Brett Lee and Nathan Hauritz saved the day for the defending champions in the penultimate Group A game of the ICC Champions Trophy at SuperSport Park on Wednesday.
The nail-biting victory has lifted Australia to the top of Group A, setting up a clash against traditional rivals England at the same venue on Friday. New Zealand and Pakistan lock horns on Saturday in the other semi-final.
There was a lack of urgency from either team to win the contest and power into the semi-finals, until the last ten overs threw the match wide open and the last semi-final spot up for grabs. Chasing a moderate total of 206, the Australians got off to a blistering start courtesy of the openers Tim Paine (29) and Shane Watson (24) until the run-rate moved at a snail’s pace after the introduction of spin.
The dismissals of the openers didn’t cause any panic in the Aussie camp as the trusted duo of Michael Hussey (64) and Ricky Ponting (32) added 81 runs for the third-wicket and most of India was bracing for an exit from the tournament.
Ponting mistimed a slog sweep off part-timer Shoaib Malik and holed out to Umar Gul, after which Saeed Ajmal (2-31) proved once again his status as Pakistan’s no.1 spin bowler by slipping through the defense of Callum Ferguson (7) and Mitchell Johnson (9).
The match twisted on its head when Rana Naved cleaned up Hussey, while the returning Asif removed Cameron White and James Hopes in quick succession. Later in the run-chase, Pakistan’s fast bowling trio of Mohammad Asif (2-34), Naved (1-39) and Gul (1-38) produced some deadly reverse swing to make life exceedingly difficult for Australia’s lower-order.
Hussey was adjudged the Man of the Match for his knock of 64 in a match that was deprived off batting milestones. Gul bowled a customary final over but Hauritz and Lee held their nerves to take Australia past the line.
Earlier, having elected to field first, Australia’s quick bowlers responded well, not allowing Pakistan’s batsmen to build any momentum in the crucial encounter. Having qualified for the semi-finals already, there was a lack of urgency in Pakistan’s innings.
Senior batsmen Mohammad Yousuf (45) and Misbah-ul-Haq (41) made useful contributions after Kamran Akmal’s knock of 44 at the top of the order.
Brett Lee (1-30), Mitchell Johnson (2-45), Shane Watson (2-32) and James Hopes (1-50) were amongst the wickets for Australia while off-spinner Nathan Hauritz conceded only 3.42 runs from his 7-over spell.
Australia fielded an unchanged lineup from the one which reached 234-4 against India before the match was abandoned on Monday. Mohammad Asif was rushed into the Pakistan side – making a comeback to the international arena – to replace fellow paceman Mohammad Aamer, who was rested.