(ESPN) It will take something truly special to put an end to this purple patch Pakistan are basking in as far as T20I cricket is concerned. As another top-order collapse saw Australia fall short by 11 runs, it became patently obvious this particular visiting side aren’t that special someone.
Pakistan, again, weren’t at their very best with the bat, and it was only a string of medium-sized scores that took them to 147. But it was in the field that their swagger was on full display, with an exceptional bowling performance – and at times an even better fielding one – snuffing out Australia’s chances.
It was a final result that made the game look closer than it really was. It wasn’t until the last five overs that Glenn Maxwell and Nathan Coulter-Nile finally took control of the chase and started finding the boundaries with regularity, and it was then that Pakistan found themselves under pressure in the field. They had, however, done enough during the first half of the innings by way of controlling the runs and taking regular wickets to ensure Maxwell’s late salvo wouldn’t imperil their inexorable path to sealing the series -their tenth in a row – at the earliest opportunity.
Chasing a target similar to the one they were tasked with on Wednesday, Australia didn’t make quite the calamitous start that saw them lose six wickets on that occasion. That, unfortunately, was all that could be said for it, with the top three falling for a combined 12 runs, and as Mitchell Marsh and Maxwell tried to rebuild, they fell far behind the asking rate.
It is when Pakistan have teams on the rack in this very fashion that they’ve sculpted their T20I fortunes on. Imad Wasim was teasingly accurate, conceding eight runs in his allocated quota, while Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali and Mohammad Hafeez almost queued up to torment Aaron Finch’s men. In the field, Pakistan were taking flying catches and inflicting miraculous run-outs. One from Fakhar Zaman may arguably be the best run-out inflicted all year, with Zaman diving forward while throwing backwards at the non-strikers end without even looking at the stumps. He hit middle, with a non-plussed Ben McDermott finding himself trudging back, victim to two sensational run-outs in as many games.
Australia were arguably unfortunate at the start of their innings in the manner D’Arcy Short was dismissed. When Finch drove Imad back to the bowler, he got a finger on it as the ball hit the stumps. The third umpire deemed Short to have his bat in the air, but no one could be sure; indeed, certain angles seemed to imply he had it grounded all along.
That began a furious and prolonged remonstration from Finch against the umpire that may yet see him part with a portion of his match fee. Australia’s sense of being against it intensified, while Pakistan began to constrict them as the asking rate soared. Soon enough, Maxwell -who had managed to hang around as the rest of his teammates found their stays at the crease prematurely curtailed – realised he’d have to do it all by himself. For the briefest moment, it appeared he’d make a match of it. Twenty-seven came off a couple of overs bowled by Shadab and Hasan, and for the first time Pakistan began to lose their rag slightly. Hafeez dropped a sitter at the cover, and the young Shaheen Afridi lost his bearings and bowled a couple of wides to send the jitters through everyone involved with Pakistan. But when Maxwell – who scored a gutsy half-century – fell in the final over, Australia’s fate had been sealed.
Pakistan’s first-innings total was once more set up by Babar Azam and Hafeez, a 70-run partnership between the two taking Pakistan to 99 with six overs still to remain. Neither, however, pushed on to provide Pakistan a flourishing finish, and Australia picked up wickets at regular intervals as they dented Pakistan’s march towards a big total. Coulter-Nile, who was the most disappointing of the three seamers in the first game, was the pick of Australia’s bowlers here: his three big wickets for 18 an instrumental factor in containing Pakistan to under 150.
But it is the innings too short to even count as cameos that have made enormous differences in both games. In the first, it was Hasan Ali whose big-hitting meant Paksiatn smashed 17 in the final over to undo much of the good work the visitors had done to seize the initiative. Here, Faheem Ashraf played that role in the final over, with Andrew Tye clobbered for 15, once again robbing Australia of the uplifting finish that would enable them to carry over the momentum to the second innings.
It isn’t merely a matter of fortune, though. Winning these small moments has enabled Sarfraz – still unbeaten in a T20I series – to win some big matches over the past two years. Once the final ball had been bowled, Sarfraz raced to the middle of the pitch and let out a roar that was part elation, part relief. Judging by the captain’s reaction, this T20I felt as big as any he has won in the green of Pakistan.