TAUNTON, June 12 (The Telegraph/WNP): Australia’s bull-dog is back, snarling and biting at ankles, and leaving Pakistan with only one leg to stand on in this World Cup. David Warner scored his first century in an international match since his ban, 107 off 111 balls, to maintain Australia’s progress towards the semi-finals and Pakistan’s towards the exit.
Warner’s leap on reaching his hundred was higher than usual, even though he had edged between keeper and slip, and his roar was louder too – not so much a redemption song as a scream. The 32 year-old bull-dog is a bit more guarded than he was, but no less dangerous for that, and he is the second highest run-scorer in this World Cup – with the Ashes to follow.
In his two previous World Cup innings Warner had made his slowest-ever 50s in ODIs, as if something were holding him back. It was natural enough against Afghanistan that after a year out he should play himself back into form and the team, but his circumspection against India had been harder to follow – unless, at the back of his mind, was the memory of having hit a net bowler at the Oval on the head in practice before the game, with all the echoes of the death of his mate Phil Hughes.
Given the medical update that the net-bowling patient was up and walking, Warner was up and running again. His captain Aaron Finch scored almost twice as quickly in terms of runs, until it was 80 to 44, but their strike-rates were similar, and the bull-dog sank his teeth into Pakistan once Finch had gone.
Australia’s innings however did not quite pan out as planned by their coach Justin Langer, returning to Taunton where he had been Somerset’s captain. Pakistan were neither hot nor cold, but cold then hot: after letting Finch and Warner score 146 off 22 overs, the highest partnership to date of this World Cup, Pakistan took ten Australian wickets for 161 and dismissed them with an over to spare.
The only time when Warner lapsed was after reaching his hundred – his 15th in ODIs – when he “went” too soon. First he was dropped off a steer to third man on 104, by Asif Ali, and then he was over-ambitious against Mohammad Amir, the only Pakistan pace bowler who bowled the right length to exploit conditions on a damp morning, taking five for 30.
“When I got out we had 70 balls to go, and as the ‘in’ batter you want to bat 50 overs,” Warner admitted. “We should have been around 340-50. Credit to Pakistan, their second spells was fantastic and made it hard for us to hit down the ground.”
Asif Ali can hardly be criticised for dropping two catches – the first at slip offered by Finch – so soon after the death of his daughter. Sarfaraz Ahmed dropped Finch again when he had scored 44, a top-edged cut that most international keepers would have caught most times out of ten. Expensive? Finch smote the next three offbreaks by Mohammad Hafeez for 14.
Pakistan’s batting was also cold and hot, then cold and hot. Their lost their first two wickets to short balls, and seven in all, as if their lesson at the hands of the West Indian fast bowlers had not been absorbed. Yet they still reached 136 for two, an excellent platform on a ground with short straight boundaries, if only there had been some disciplined shot-selection before the late-order clubbing by Hasan Ali and Wahab Riaz.
That partnership gave Pakistan a chance, but it was snuffed out when Wahab edged Mitchell Starc behind, Aaron Finch successfully reviewing with just a second left on the DRS timer.
Ultimately, the match was resolved in a few minutes of the sublime and ridiculous. The sublime was Pat Cummins who has bowled more dot-balls than anyone in this tournament. He bounced out Imam ul-Haq then jagged one back to take the inside edge of Shoaib Malik, while Hafeez slammed a slow full toss 90 yards to be caught at deep square-leg. A good game, except for Pakistan’s batting collapse, so that it was not quite the nail-biter this tournament needed after the two consecutive wash-outs.
The semi-finalists are currently shaping up to be the predicted four of Australia, England, India and New Zealand. The question is whether another contender can squeeze out one of them. Pakistan could have done it, but have roused themselves only for England and will do so again, no doubt, for their game against India – which leaves West Indies to provide the upset, starting perhaps against England at Southampton on Friday.
Australia looked more formidable in deploying four pace bowlers and Glenn Maxwell, instead of Marcus Stoinis and Adam Zampa. They have reverted to the formula which won the 2015 World Cup, and which is well-suited to the damp conditions while they last.
Australia win by 41 runs
Pakistan had their chances but couldn’t sustain three crucial partnerships into three-figures and change the game. Australia held their nerve with a relatively light bowling attack by virtue of Cummins’ brilliance and Starc’s execution of the tail.