A high-quality match blessed with several outstanding individual performances and a couple of unexpected plot twists ended with Australia beating Pakistan by five wickets to join New Zealand in what will be an entirely Antipodean T20 World Cup final in Dubai on Sunday.
The tournament appears to have saved its best until last. After a dearth of close matches during the Super 12s, both semi-finals have been spellbinding, with supremacy swinging as frequently and sometimes as violently as the players’ bats.
Pakistan’s innings set up this match perfectly, challenging Australia to score 177 to win. Although their progress was interrupted by David Warner, having scored 49 off 30 and looking in wonderful touch, remarkably walking for a catch behind the stumps despite making no contact, Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade, the latter with 41 off just 17 balls including three sixes off three balls to finish the match, powered their side to victory with an over to spare.
Pakistan were always rank outsiders for this competition, though it has often been hard to work out how. Theirs is a team stuffed with players in wonderful form: Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, and Fakhar Zaman.
Shaheen Afridi started Australia’s innings with an over of superlative high-speed swing bowling, and Shadab Khan got four wickets in his four overs – one in each – including what felt the most important of them all. Although perhaps that one should not count.
Warner was at his pugnacious, brutal best before his innings ended in bizarre style immediately after the drinks break. As Shadab Khan ripped one past the bat, bowler and wicket-keeper instantly set off in celebration, the umpire raised his finger and the batter trudged angrily from the field. Australia had two reviews to burn and a player who looked in fine touch, apparently ready and able to win the game, had effectively given himself out. Luckily Australia had a few more match-winners to come.
Afridi had started Australia’s innings with a simply magnificent opening over, plaguing right-handers with high-speed extreme late in-swing, Aaron Finch absolutely blameless in falling to his first ball of the night.
But as so often in this competition the ball ceased swinging after a single over, and Warner and Marsh relaxed. After scoring 13 runs off the first three overs of the powerplay, two of them bowled by Shaheen, they scored 39 off the second three, with Warner particularly punishing Imad Wasim before, as he continued to settle, starting to spread the pain around.
After his dismissal and cameos from Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell, Stoinis and Wade united to decide the match. It might have been different had Hasan Ali, off the third ball of the 19th over, not misjudged the flight of the ball and dropped Wade at deep midwicket. The Australian reacted to his reprieve with a hat-trick of sixes and the match was over.
Once they have recovered from their disappointment, Pakistan will find plenty of positives both in this performance and across the tournament. Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan started this game second and third behind Jos Buttler on the list of the tournament’s top scorers – and ended it first and second.
Their consistency, from the first game of the tournament when the pair of them chased down India’s 151 without assistance, has been the cornerstone of Pakistan’s success and here again they set about constructing the foundations of another impressive innings.
Australia’s spinners restricted Pakistan’s scoring in the middle overs, with Adam Zampa – particularly impressive because the last thing that happened before his first over was him dropping Rizwan, diving forward at long leg – outstanding. He conceded just 22 runs over four overs and broke the opening partnership by tempting Babar to lift to long-on.
But once Zampa bowled out with four overs to go the innings spiralled to a thrillingly chaotic conclusion. It started with Josh Hazlewood bowling Australia’s most expensive over of the tournament, featuring two sixes and a waist-high full-toss that was pulled away for four. It continued with Mitchell Starc getting Rizwan caught in the deep with his first ball before Zaman thumped a six over long-on and a head-high straight drive that was part cricket shot, part assassination attempt – umpire Chris Gaffaney dived out of the way in the nick of time.
A phenomenal penultimate over from Pat Cummins, assisted by Pakistan’s specialist six-hitter Asif Ali lifting his first ball to Steve Smith in the deep, was followed by half of one from Starc, a set then rather ruined by Zaman’s pair of massive sixes over midwicket. It felt like a challenging target, but this has been a tournament for chasers and in pursuit Australia proved irresistible.