If Pakistan’s Asif Ali were the cousin of T&T’s Inshan Ali or Zaheer Ali, Australia would today be fifth in the 2019 World Cup standings instead of second.
The two points Aaron Finch’s team earned for their 41-run victory over Safaraz Ahmed’s side in Taunton yesterday lifted them to a current total of six after four matches, level with neighbours New Zealand, who have played only three games but who boast a better net run-rate anyway.
Ali it was who put down Man-of-the-Match David Warner at third-man with the score on 239 for 3. Warner was out in the very next over but his side went on to get 306, which proved beyond the Pakistanis.
And Ali it was too who dropped Finch at slip off Wahab Riaz in the 13th over when the score was 76 without loss. In partnership with Finch, Warner went on to post the highest opening stand of the tournament so far, 146, before Mohammad Amir claimed Finch, well caught by Mohammad Hafeez running back at extra-cover to accept the skier.
And with Pakistan needing only two more than 146 from the last 20 overs for what would have been a surprise victory, Asif failed to get out of the way of a lifter from Kane Richardson and gloved the ball through to Alex Carey behind the stumps.
His contribution off the eight balls he faced was just five.
After Ali’s departure, Safaraz was joined by another Ali, Hasan, who threatened to take the game away from the Aussies. He treated Glen Maxwell and Richardson as if they were both bowling lollipops, crashing three fours and three sixes in 32, scored off a mere 15 balls.
He then heaved Richardson straight into Usman Khawaja’s lap at deep fine-leg, leaving his team needing 108 more with 16 overs left.
In partnership with Safaraz, Wahab continued the onslaught, slamming three sixes and two fours in a steady 45 off 39 balls but also rotating the strike consistently, a headache for Finch.
When he feathered a widish ball from Starc through for Carey to take his fourth catch of the innings, Finch would have breathed a huge sigh of relief.
A Starc yorker then accounted for Amir and a fine bit of fielding from a leaping Maxwell at short-mid-on stranded Safaraz (40 off 48) in mid-pitch to end the Pakistani innings.
It had begun on a negative note. In the third over, the in-form Fakhar Zaman sent a vicious cut down Richardson’s throat on the third-man boundary. Five yards to the left or right, the ball would have gone for six. Or given us another of those magnificent Sheldon Cottrell-catching-Steve-Smith moments.
In at three, Babar Azam (30 off 28), all grace and poise, carved seven effortless, elegant fours through the in-field off the 28 balls he faced. But it was an hors d’oeuvre, not a meal. He soon pulled loosely at a short ball from Nathan Coulter-Nile and, like Zaman before him, succeeded in precisely picking out the lone fielder on the fine-leg boundary.
Hafeez (46 off 49, 3 x 4, 1 x 6) too continued the trend of picking out boundary fielders, hitting a Finch full toss straight into Mitchell Starc’s safe hands at deep midwicket. That was immediately after Imam-ul-Haq (53 off 75, 7×4), who had looked really good, gloved a leg-side chance through to Carey in the 26th over.
When Shoaib Malik failed to trouble the scorers, the writing seemed to be on the wall but the lower order delayed the inevitable and gave the Pakistani supporters hope.
The loss means a spectacular improvement in Pakistan’s general showing will be necessary if they are to achieve a repeat of their 1992 performance of winning the title despite losing three matches in the round robin phase.
Australia are sitting pretty, still jockeying for position in the final four. Given first strike, Warner (107 off 111) and Finch (82 off 84) looked as if, thanks to their heroics, the game would be out of Pakistan’s reach by the end of the innings.
But Amir turned things around for his side, claiming match figures of 10-2-30-5 and ensuring that the next best Aussie score was Shaun Marsh’s 23 off 26 balls. He added the scalps of Marsh, Khawaja (18 off 16), Carey (20 off 21) and Starc (3 off 6) to take his tally of wickets in the tournament so far to 10. Shaheen Afridi, whose first two overs were taken for 24 runs, finished with figures of 10-0-70-2.
Having been at pains to persuade readers that scoreboard pressure is a nearly irresistible force, let me take a few paragraphs to explain that there is an antidote. Eoin Morgan’s England know it very well but, like so much else of which they claim ownership, they might have taken that too from the colonies.
The antidote is what we in T&T call bad mind; it works only once or twice out of ten times, though.
If Asif had a little Trini in his genes, he and not Hasan, along with Wahab, would have thumped the Aussie bowling to all parts of the field and repeatedly over its boundaries as things began to look brown for Pakistan in the late half.
One or two lusty blows à la Hasan or à la Wahab from Asif would have made 308 that much closer when those two came to the wicket. Had that happened, had Asif had a little Caribbean bad mind like Hasan and Wahab, today’s game might well have been number nine or ten out of ten.
And Pakistan would today been at number two in the standings with five points.
But Asif batted at number seven, did not bowl and grassed two crucial catches. Why was he selected again?
That looks about to be fixed. Pakistan’s next game is on Sunday against India in Manchester. Asif will probably have done unto him what he has done unto others.
Pakistan know their old arch-rivals are aiming to solidify their place in the semi-finals by embarrassing them. One more loss and they’re virtually on the plane for home.
Surely they won’t be taking anyone along just for the ride.