Rejuvenated Pakistan overpower Australia to level ODI series
It was no lop-sided affair this time at the Gaddafi Stadium as charged spectators cheered Pakistan, a different-looking Pakistan, who finally recorded a win against the touring Australians on Thursday.
Khushdil Shah’s cameo (27 not out off 17 balls) revived the hosts’ fortunes after the Aaron Finch-led Australia posted a massive 348-8 on a placid track after being put into bat again by Babar Azam.
The six-wicket victory, which resulted in Pakistan’s biggest-ever chase in ODIs, levelled the high-profile series 1-1 with the third and final game scheduled for Saturday at the same venue.
Pakistan’s effort in the end proved towering, which signifies the team played with a different mindset from what they competed in the series opener.
But looking at the match proceedings from the wider angle, the day belonged to Imam-ul-Haq and Babar, the proud centurions, who showed their class with some delightful strokeplay.
The encouraging sign for Pakistan in the match was the way their top order approached the game, after their 88-run loss in the first match, while eyeing a huge target in a must-win situation.
If southpaw Imam struck his second consecutive ODI century (106 off 97), his left-handed opening partner Fakhar Zaman provided him full support giving Pakistan a flying start.
Both the batters freely played their strokes as Pakistan reached 50 in the ninth over and crossed the 100 mark in the 16th over.
Fakhar, who reached his fifty off 48 balls, was finally cleaned up by a beauty of a delivery by Marcus Stoinis for 67 as the opening stand was finally broken at 118 in the 19th over. The Pakistani batter faced 64 balls while smashing seven fours and two sixes in making his 14th ODI half-century.
But Fakhar’s departure brought no relief for Australia, rather it created more trouble as out came Babar, known for his classical-cum-belligerent batting.
Right-handed Babar alongside Imam added an invaluable 111 runs off 92 balls for the second wicket to make sure the home team remain on track in the testing chase.
The 26-year-old Imam, unlike his century in the previous match, this time played with an intent to go for runs, instead of waiting for them. His ninth ODI ton, which was laced with aggression and solid defence, came off 90 balls. He struck six fours and three sixes during the high-quality knock which was ended by leg-spinner Adam Zampa when the batter was caught at long-on boundary by Marnus Labuschagne.
After Imam’s knock Babar naturally and rightly took up the scoring honours as the stylish batter reached his 15th ODI century off mere 73 balls. And when the Pakistan captain, added 80 runs for the third wicket with Mohammad Rizwan (23 off 26), was eventually dismissed for a polished 114 off 83 by Nathan Ellis, Pakistan had come close to what looked liked a comfortable victory. But not to be. When Rizwan was sent back by Zampa, Pakistan faced a hiccup. Needing 27 off the last three overs, Khushdul took charge and completed the job with Iftikhar Ahmed (11 not out) with one over to spare.
Earlier, a belligerent century by Ben McDermott and rapid half-centuries by Travis Head and Labuschagne propelled Australia to a huge total after being put in to bat.
And though pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi trapped captain Aaron Finch (0) on the third ball of the innings, Head who was joined by McDermott, had other ideas.
Fresh from his match-winning 101 in the first ODI, southpaw Head continued with the belligerent batting display adding 162 runs for the second wicket with McDermott off 144 balls.
After reaching their 50 in the ninth over, Australia raced to 100 in the 16th over as the 28-year-old completed his tenth ODI half-century off 45 balls. And when he was dismissed for 89 by leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood, caught at short fine leg by Shaheen, in the 25th over, Head had struck six fours and five sixes.
McDermott, who struck 55 in the first ODI, was slightly less aggressive but maintained a run-a-ball batting after completing his fifty off 52 balls. On the way to his maiden century only in his fourth ODI, the 27-year-old formed a 74-run third-wicket stand with Labuschagne (59 off 49) in 63 balls as the tourists reached 200 at the start of the 30th over. After McDermott reached the century mark off 102 balls, Pakistan gradually stopped the onslaught as Mohammad Wasim dismissed McDermott, caught by Haris Rauf. The batter hit 19 fours and four sixes. It was Wasim’s first ODI wicket.
At 272-3 in the 41st over, Australia still looked threatening but at this stage, slow left-arm spinner Khushdil Shah picked up the vital breakthrough sending Labuschagne back to the pavilion, as the right-hander was caught by Saud Shakeel just inside the ropes. The batter hit five fours.
Batting at No.5, Marcus Stoinis (49 off 33) made sure Australia maintain the momentum. And though both Alex Carey (5) and Cameron Green (5) went cheaply, Sean Abbott’s 16-ball 28 steered them to a huge score.
Shaheen picked up four wickets but not without giving 63 off his 10 overs.
Wasim claimed 2-56 while Zahid (1-71), Haris (0-57), Khushdil (1-57 off six) and Iftikhar (0-38 in four overs) remained expensive.