DHAKA - Defeat in their opening match against India has left Pakistan with a mountain to climb against a multi-dimensional Australian side
Although resilience may not be Pakistan's biggest forte, the team is known to dig deep and come up with the goods when it has been pushed into a corner.
A proud Pakistani record will be on the line come Sunday (today). The only team to have made the semifinal of every ICC World Twenty20 since the first edition in South Africa in 2007, Pakistan suddenly find them within one defeat of near-certain elimination.
Friday’s seven-wicket loss at the hands of a team it has never been able to subdue in World Cup play has left M Hafeez’s boys with the proverbial mountain to climb. The Group of Death that Group 2 in the ICC World Twenty20 2014 has come to resemble could well become the Group of Sudden Death for Pakistan if it doesn’t pull itself together against Australia who, for all its cricketing riches, has found the World T20 a puzzle too difficult to solve.
Traditionally, Pakistan have always dug deep and come up with the goods when it has been pushed into a corner. Resilience may not be the side's biggest forte; such mundane traits come to the method sides, to the teams that are less style and more substance, less flair and more clinical. Pakistan can be many things, but clinically boring it most certainly is not, which is why watching the team in action sends millions of supporters on a nail-biting rollercoaster ride at the end of which the fan is as drained as, if not more than, the players themselves.
Faced with the prospect of crashing out at this early stage of the competition, don’t be surprised if Australia are at the receiving end of a spectacular backlash. India did everything right at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium on Friday night; the spinners were outstanding, the batsmen more than up to the task of scaling down 131 against a quality attack with many strings to its bow. Australia must at least equal India’s efficiency if it is to get its campaign off to a winning start.
Moin Khan, the Pakistan coach said the dampness of the pitch was one of the primary reasons for his team’s stuttering batting display, but 130 for 7 under any conditions isn’t a total that can be relied upon to win games. Pakistan will have to look inwards, particularly when it has the personnel to make capital of the lack of pace and bounce in the Sher-e-Bangla strips.
Much of Pakistan’s success in the Twenty20 format has revolved around the bowling, with Saeed Ajmal at the forefront and Umar Gul a close second, given his ability to reverse swing the white Kookaburra when it is no more than 12 or 13 overs old. Coming off an injury, Gul has been well short of his best, both at the Asia Cup and on Friday against India; consequently, the need for Ajmal to strike frequently, and lead a spin attack with Hafeez himself, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik as competent support acts, becomes that much more desperate.
There is enough depth, class and experience in the bowling for Hafeez and Moin not to lose too much sleep, but the batting is an entirely different matter altogether. With the bowling, you know exactly what you will get with Pakistan but the batting is more mercurial. On a good day, Pakistan’s batsmen can reduce the best in the business to nervous wrecks. On a not-so-good day, they can make the most innocuous bowlers look frighteningly threatening.
And, to be honest, Australia’s bowling is anything but innocuous, nothwithstanding the absence from the tournament through injury of Mitchell Johnson, and the absence from its opening game, also through injury, of James Faulkner. Mitchell Starc, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Doug Bollinger, Johnson’s replacement, are wonderful Twenty20 bowlers. Shane Watson is always worth his weight in gold and Brad Hogg, a sprightly, youthful 43, offers the unique wares that only a left-arm Chinaman bowler can. Throw young James Muirhead, the legspinner, into the mix along with a clutch of part-time spin options in Glenn Maxwell, Cameron White, Aaron Finch and Brad Hodge, and you find the trappings of a varied attack that offers George Bailey multiple options.
Australia’s more fearsome suit, however, is its batting, an explosive, dynamic, power-packed unit that will compare favourably with most batting line-ups in the competition. There is such muscle in the top order that while Finch and David Warner, in quite the form of his life, will punish the bad balls, they will also send good ones screaming to, and over, the fence with disdainful regularity. Watson can provide stability or momentum at No. 3, depending on the situation, while the inclusion in the middle order of Hodge, 39, lends another dimension to a batting group that knows only one way to the approach a Twenty20 innings – with naked, all-out aggression.
Given the resources Bailey can summon, Australia will believe this tournament offers a fabulous opportunity to break its World T20 duck. The side's preparations have been immaculate – it defeated South Africa in two T20Is just last week, and warmed up for this competition by taking 200 off New Zealand in a warm-up game in Fatullah three evenings back. Bailey is smart enough not to read too much into the preceding events, but he is also mindful of the strengths of his team and the exciting opportunity ahead of it in this competition. Just as he is mindful of the fury of Pakistan which can unleash itself suddenly, sensationally, without any warning.
PAKISTAN: Kamran Akmal (wk), Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez (capt), Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Sohaib Maqsood, Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul, Bilawal Bhatti, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Sharjeel Khan, Sohail Tanvir, Zulfiqar Babar, Mohammad Talha.
AUSTRALIA: David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson, George Bailey (capt), Glenn Maxwell, Brad Hodge, Brad Haddin (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Starc, Brad Hogg, James Muirhead, Cameron White, Doug Bollinger, Dan Christian.