Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Afridi helps Pakistan draw first blood

Shahid Afridi made the ball talk and picked up his best ODI figures of 6 for 38.

At 95 for 1 in the 19th over, Younis Khan's pre-match prediction of chasing a target of 260-270 seemed a reality. That was until Afridi got the ball and the crowd to dance to his tunes. He began by getting rid of the most well-set batsman, Brad Haddin, for a brisk 40, tamely chipping a flighted delivery to short cover. Michael Clarke's struggles against the spin trio of Paul Harris, Roelof van der Merwe and Johan Botha in South Africa were well documented and the nightmare didn't end with the move to another country. He was flummoxed by an Ajmal doosra and edged behind before Afridi worked his magic.

A rusty Andrew Symonds nicked one to a refreshingly sharp Kamran Akmal, before Shane Watson, who had played neatly on his return to the side after injury by adding 54 with Haddin, was beaten by one which turned through the gate. Safe catching helped Pakistan and Misbah-ul-Haq showed his sharp reflexes to cling into Callum Ferguson's edge to remove one of Australia's few in-form batsmen. Nathan Hauritz completely misjudged Ajmal's line, shouldered arms and lost his stumps.

The score suddenly read a shocking 110 for 7 and it brought back bad memories of their collapse at Centurion very recently. It wasn't the kind you would expect of the second best team in the world even in the worst of days. The spinners sensed a weak link and exploited it with clinical efficiency. Afridi's googlies proved too much for the tailenders Stuart Clark and Nathan Bracken as he collected his best ODI figures and Pakistan's best figures against Australia.

James Hopes enjoyed a free swing of the arms in the third Powerplay with an unbeaten 48 to push the score to 168, a big improvement from a hopeless 122 for 9, but the momentum was still with Pakistan.

The Australian seamers failed to get enough early breakthroughs to cause a serious flutter in the Pakistan camp. The dangerous Salman Butt was trapped lbw for 5 in the seven-over period before the dinner break before a fidgety Younis Khan holed out to midwicket.

Spin was introduced in the 13th over but Hauritz couldn't extract the same turn and bite that Afridi and Ajmal managed against his batsmen. He overpitched too often and that allowed Akmal to get forward and drive through the line. He used his feet well and chipped down the track to bisect the gaps in the infield.

Shoaib Malik contributed only 12 in a stand of 48 with Akmal, content to let his partner hog the strike. However, as Akmal motored along, a flashy drive outside off cost him his wicket and Clark had his revenge after being slashed for a four past slip two balls earlier. A loose dab by Malik brought Afridi to the crease, who began by clipping his first ball - a low full toss - past square leg and then pulling the next past midwicket.

He took Pakistan within 31 of the target before mishitting one to mid-on. The chase thereafter was scratchy, with Misbah holding fort as Pakistan got home with 35 balls to spare. It wasn't the most convincing of chases but good enough to prove a point. Moreover, they played with a hunger to win against a team dogged by injuries and knackered after a back-breaking summer.