Colombo: There was no sudden snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory in the sweating Khettarama cauldron this Saturday night. And as history shows, Pakistan have made a habit of performing such self-inflicted wounds.
Not this time, though. In the end, they survived in this Group A thriller against title-holders Australia to inflict the first World Cup defeat over Ricky Pontingâ€™s side since May 23, 1999.
It is where one of the two remaining combatants of that game, Abdul Razzaq caressed the ball through the covers off a Jason Krejza delivery, who was in a sense may have recalled the more chilly climes of the famed Yorkshire venue than steamy Premadasa Stadium in far off Sri Lanka. The other player remaining from that game is the Aussie captain Ponting.
In a sense, the historyâ€™s lessons of that Leeds victory by Pakistan of 10 runs over Australia and the victory by four wickets Saturday night, not quite 12 years and 34 games later, collide as it was Pakistanâ€™s ability to overcome their demons which have all too often haunted their gameplan and let them down when they needed to show strength of character.
If Leeds 1999 fleetingly emerged in the thoughts of Ponting, it is how Steve Waugh marshalled his side to scrape into the Super Six. Now it is a matter of possibly facing India in the quarterfinals and Pakistan meeting West Indies. All that however, is really a matter of how India and West Indies shape in their final Group B game on Sunday. South Africa at the head of Group B now play New Zealand who finished bottom of Group A.
As suggested in the preview, the way this World Cup is turning out, Pakistan are under more pressure for this match; a razor knife-edge of introspection that is where Pakistan can either play a classic game and win, or forget the basics and lose horrendously: as they did against New Zealand. It is more than the mind game; it is about skills and application, not make believe.
Well, on Saturday, they bowled to a plan and a pattern, strangled the opposition and the early departure of Shane Watson, bowled by Umar Gul for nine, set the pattern. It is easy to see the hand of the coach Waqar Younis in the way they went about exercising the bowling strategy supported as it was with good fielding.
As one who reported on the Pakistan win at Leeds in 1999, it was interesting the comparisons of the two sides and how they shaped in the final at Lordâ€™s with memories of Inzamam-ul-Haq slipping and falling twice, once almost in an undignified heap at the feet of his captain, Wasim Akram yet managed to scramble to safety.
Also in that game at Leeds, Razzaq, then an exciting teenager, helped repair an early Pakistan collapse with the scoreline at 46 for three with Inzi adding his weight in bulk as well as runs. Well, on the night moon shone, over Khettarama, the only jitters came when Brett Lee dismantled the middle-order in a two-ball burst when he took out Younis Khan and Mishbah with the score at 98.
It seemed that it might be a turning point. Such a glitch in the mind can so easily upset the best plans and Lee has a habit of fighting to the last in typical Australian "digger" style. Recall the scene and most moving moment of the 2005 The Ashes Test series and Freddie Flintoff consoling the Australian who had been dismissed in the game that brought the series alive.
Despite his brimstone and fire, there was no final breakthrough as Umar Akmal and Razzaq added the 36 runs needed to secure an important victory. It was more impressive and stylish batting than the Australians managed to produce in their total of 176 â€“ failing to bat through the 50 overs of the innings.
At times, the Australian batting lacked direction as well as identity. It struggled to find a rhythm and no one can blame the pitch conditions either as Ponting, winning the toss, deciding the best option was to bat first and get runs on the board. That is where their gameplan seemed to falter.
An out of touch Ponting didnâ€™t help his teamâ€™s cause either by edging a catch to Kamran Akmal and failing to walk when he was clearly out. As Billy Bowden, the third umpire checked and overruled the initial not out decision, given by South African Marais Erasmus, a set of tough verbals between the Pakistan fieldsmen and Brad Haddin.
As was the case in their game against Sri Lanka that was eventually rained off, Australia seemed to fail to display their pre-game sparkle. As with Sri Lanka, they had shown far more professionalism when playing the associates and a struggling New Zealand side.
Australia's batting effort, as the scoreboard indicates, was a scrappy performance and one that is going to need examination as they shape up for the quarterfinals. It is why Ponting's "very ordinary" remark is as close as it gets.
Pakistan can now think seriously of their 2011 World Cup campaign. Located in Sri Lanka for the qualifying round because of the decision to move their games from a troubled Pakistan to the island, they have emerged a stronger side.
If Umar Akmal pulled together a decisive battling innings, which steered Pakistan to the brink of victory in this game with an undefeated 44, it was the senior partner in Razzaq who added the finishing touches.
After watching the way South Africa demolished Bangladesh, who became the seventh consecutive side Graeme Smithâ€™s team have dismissed, you feel sorry for New Zealand who face them in the quarterfinal. What this lesson suggests is that Australia are now in danger of not making the final as there are some interesting scraps ahead.
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