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February 2, 2000


India Down Under

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Australia go one up in CUB finals

Prem Panicker

When Wasim Akram said that it was important to get off to a winning start in the CUB Finals -- 'Both are competitive teams, it is difficult to win two in a row after going down 1-0', the Pakistan captain rationalised -- he had the right idea.

Glenn McGrath, fresh from receiving the Allan Border Medal for cricketing excellence, however had other ideas, and effectively finished the match off, as a contest, when he took out three wickets in his two opening overs to reduce Pakistan to 4/3.

It was not quite the kind of start Pakistan needed. Not against a side with seven successive wins under its belt and on a huge confidence high. More so, after winning the toss and opting for first strike on a grassless belter of a track that promised a run-feast.

On a very hot Melbourne day, Pakistan went in with Razzaq -- now over his 'injury' caused, one presumes, by sticking his foot in his mouth over Tendulkar's alleged ball-tampering -- coming back into the side in place of Waqar Younis.

Australia, meanwhile, backed the raw pace and emerging talent of Brett Lee over the experience of Damien Fleming.

And disaster struck right from the start. McGrath bounced one -- apparently no one had told him the deck was supposed to be lifeless. Afridi tried to pull out of line, was beaten for lift, line and pace, and managed the edge through to Gilchrist, for a first ball duck.

Brett Lee, sharing the new ball, showed further signs of things to come with a controlled over. Most deliveries whistled through around the 145 k mark, yet there was, even in his opening over, control, variety and guile that would have done justice to a veteran -- from a relative tyro, it really was an incredible performance.

With Lee applying the squeeze at the other end, McGrath went full throttle and again, lifted one just outside line of off. Ijaz, always a nervous starter at best, slashed it straight to Warne, back to doing duty at first slip, for the leggie to hold in front of his face.

That brought Inzamam to the wicket. And back he went, two balls later, walking too far across his stumps to be trapped bang in front by a fullish length ball from McGrath. Earlier in this series, we had talked of how Inzamam's exaggerated shuffle would set him up for this dismissal, with quick bowlers around the world immediately straightening their line and bowling fullish when he walked out to bat, and this is merely the continuation of that trend. Inzy, in fact, was lucky to survive even the one ball he did, as McGrath got him fending at one, in an attempt to run it through gully, only for the ball to spoon off the shoulder of the bat and fall just short of Ponting at point.

Brett Lee, who had been making the batsmen hop around at the other end, then decided it was time to join the party, and found the edge of Anwar's bat as the batsman pushed away from his body at a delivery that left him late outside off. Pakistan, on a batsman's paradise, were 4/12, and the game was as good as in Australia's bag at this point.

Yousuf Youhanna seemed to be settling in quite nicely, shrugging off the occasional play-and-miss bits and focussing on staying there. However, occupation alone wasn't going to do it -- Pak had inched along from 12/3 in 5 to 16/4 in 10 and despite the introduction of Shane Warne in the tenth over and Shane Lee in the 11th, the runs just weren't coming.

This put pressure on the batsman. An attempt to whip one off his pads saw the ball bob to Martyn at midwicket, the fielder uncharacteristically grassing a sitter off Warne's bowling in the 14th over.

Martyn didn't have long to bite his nails and rue his lapse -- in the very next over, Shane Lee bent one back in the air and straightened it off the seam, on a fullish length, to have Youhanna pushing down the wrong line and walking back, plumb in front.

That put the onus on two all-rounders, Razzaq and Mahmood, who had earier in the tournament lit stadia up with scintillant strokeplay. A score of 28/5 after 15, however, seemed to have an inhibiting effect on both batsmen. Rather than play the ball to merit, they concentrated on exaggerated defence, often stroking half volleys gently back or into the V, and making no attempt to work singles and get the ball off the square. Warne and Lee, bowling with no pressure whatsoever, kept things tight and the score inched ahead, to 39/5 off 20, 49/5 at the halfway mark.

Any batsman looking up, at the halfway stage of a 50-over game to find half the side back in the hut and less than 50 runs on the board, is apt to panic a touch. Mahmood's nerve, in this instance, was the first to crack. Steve Waugh, in the luxurious position of being able to toss the ball to just about anybody he fancied, gave it to Michael Bevan, the occasonal bowler served up a long hop outside off stump and Mahmood, who had defended for so long that his motor memory had probably forgotten how to be aggressive, hit it straight to Steve Waugh at cover, the softest dismissal you would want to see.

The same panic seized Razzaq as well, and the all-rounder whose big hitting deeds had enlivened the earlier stage of this competition tried to change gears in a hurry, looking for a lofted shot over mid on only for Steve Waugh, running away towards the fence with the ball coming over his shoulder, to take a superbly judged catch. 78/7 and Pakistan were in increasing danger of being unable to match the 132 they made at Lord's in the World Cup final -- their lowest ODI score against Australia.

Moin Khan and Wasim Akram, with some nudging and glancing, pushed it along to 108 before Symonds took out the Pakistan skipper with a lovely inswinging yorker. And then Moin, who has been struggling for form through the competition, took charge with a lovely cameo, hitting shots at will and, in the process, mocking at the earlier efforts of the top order batsmen. He first went after Shane Lee, then took on Warne and lofted one straight back down the track for a huge six. However, his cameo of 47 off 48 ended when he went to repeat theshot and managed only to pick out Martyn on the long on boundary.

Brett Lee, returning during the slog, then bowled Saqlain to end the Pakistan innings at 154. Which meant, in fact, that Pakistan had played the second half of its innnings much better than the first -- going from 49/5 in 25, to 81/7 in 30, 91/7 in 35, 108/8 in 40 and 140/8 in 45 before the premature end following Moin's demise.

For Australia, McGrath and Brett Lee were the pick of the bowlers -- in fact, there was nothing much for the rest to do, once the two opening bowlers had nailed Pakistan to the wall by the 10 over mark. Shane Warne bowled a better spell than during the last league game against India, but then, he was never under pressure of any kind here thanks to the rut the Pak batsmen had batted themselves in to.

154 was never likely to challenge an Aussie side that bats deep and has been oozing confidence right through this tournament. Pakistan's only hope was for Akthar to fire early, and for Akram to reprise that incredible spell he bowled against India the other day. However, the keen edge of Akram's bowling appeared to have deserted him and though he did beat the bat a few times, he never really threatened to rip through. At the other end, Akthar bowled with a lot of fire and some guile, and got rid of Gilchrist when he pitched one short, tempting the southpaw into a pull that found the top edge, for Azhar Mahmood to take in front of the keeper.

Mark Waugh, who looked to be timing the ball well, was the next to go, beaten for pace by Akthar, and trapped in front as he shuffled across the crease. Junior seemed to be shuffling around a lot as the ball hit, there was some doubt about the line of the strike, but Umpire Simon Taufel is apparently one of those who have less doubt that most others when it comes to LBWs, and up went his finger.

From then on, Ponting -- who, as always, played a belligerent if occasionally risky hand, and Bevan, who since his elevation to number four has been batting with enormous confidence, played percentage cricket, weathering the attack of Razzaq, Mahmood and Saqlain, and pushing the score along steadily to 104/3 in the 30th over before Afridi, the 6th bowler to be tried, sent down a quicker one for Ponting to mishit to Razzaq at a slightly backward point.

By then, however, Australia needed just 50 more to win, with seven in hand. Bevan and skipper Steve Waugh, batting with the calm assurance of men who knew their task was all but done, just chipped away at what remained of that target.

Bevan made yet another 50 -- half-centuries appear, these days, to be inevitable when he walks out to the middle, and this one was of a piece with the earlier ones in this series; very calm, controlled, relying on his strengths of timing, placement and lightning foot-speed between wickets to keep the runs coming. With victory just 7 runs away, though, Bevan holed out to Razzaq at mid off, looking for a big hit to finish things off quickly and playing too early to carry the field.

> Razzaq, coming back, bowled a good, probing second spell, Akthar was given another go to try and blast a few wickets away, but the hard-headed professionalism of the Aussies told in the end, and victory -- by a margin of 6 wickets -- was achieved without much fuss, and with overs to spare.

That leaves the home side in the happy position of being one up in a three match series -- a position Pakistan will find next to impossible to recover from.

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