Five-time 50 over world champions Australia beat 2009 World T20 winners and unbeaten Pakistan in the semi-finals by five wickets to reach Sunday’s final with neighbours New Zealand.
Winning the toss, Australian captain Aaron Finch put Pakistan into bat, in a decision which maybe could have been driven (no intentional cricket pun) by not knowing what would be a good score to defend in Abu Dhabi.
Stats wise, if Pakistan got to a total of 175 + then Babar Azam’s men had a great chance of getting into yet another World T20 final, but matches aren’t always won on stats, controlling your emotions in the big moments and being calm under pressure does.
Babar’s Pakistan side would post 176-4 in their 20 overs , thanks to captain Babar Azam (39) opening partner Mohammed Rizwan (67) and a return to form for Fakhar Zaman (55 not out). The key to Pakistan’s success to get this far is, is that they have been able to get their key players into form.
Mohammed Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali (the batting line-up’s engine room) all making telling contributions this tournament. When it’s not your day, it’s not your day as between these three men, they were only able to make two between them.
Sports matches are settled by the finest margins. Unbeaten Pakistan who would consolidate in the first ten overs and then use that as a platform to launch for the last 10 overs where they would go on an assault of the oppositions bowling attack, is what they tried to do here.
In Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins however, you have bowlers who are masters of the death bowling trade. Pakistan would still eek out 105 runs in the last 10, but this would be lower than their efforts that they scored against Scotland and Namibia (129).
Australia needed 177 to reach the final. First The Aussies needed to over come the twin threat of Imaad Wasim and the jewel in the Pakistani crown, Shaheen Shah Afridi. Just like the 21-year old Afridi did against India, he would again get a crucial wicket early on.
Aussie captain Aaron Finch, would be dismissed for a golden duck, trapped LBW off the bowling of Afridi. Warner and co were up against it, but a nerve steadying 51 run second wicket stand between Warner (49) and Mitch Marsh 28) helped Australia get ahead of the comparative rate.
Game over, some may have thought, but up came vice-captain Shadab Khan, the 24-year old all-rounder and Islamabad United captain. The leg-spinner would take best figures in a semi-final for this format (4-26) and Pakistan were daring to believe of another final.
At 96-5 and with Maxwell, Smith and Warner all back in the pavilion, just maybe even the most passionate of Australian fans were losing hope. But there would be a final twist in the tale as Marcus Stoinis (40 not out) and Matthew Wade (41 not out) combined and put on an unbroken 81 for the sixth wicket.
Cricket is a cruel game sometimes and none so more for Hassan Ali. Ali who spear headed Pakistan to 2017 Champions trophy glory, struggled in this tournament and did so here too (0-44 from four overs).
A dropped catch off the bowling of Shaheen Shah Afridi, did give Matthew Wade a reprieve, but in reality the game was over by then. Wade, would duly end proceedings with consecutive sixes off the bowling of Afridi.
Trolls will criticise Hassan Ali for the drop catch, it wasn’t an easy catch for the 27-year old but these small margins make a big difference and catches win matches. Let’s hope this experience makes him better and for the 21-year old Shaheen too.
Australia play New Zealand in Sunday’s final at Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai.