When openers Aaron Finch and D’Arcy Short cracked 96 off just 9.5 overs, the Australians were looking at least 200-plus batting first in the T20 final against Pakistan in Harare overnight.
That they petered out with 8-183 thanks to yet another batting collapse with Glenn Maxwell gone for five, Marcus Stoinis for 12, Travis Head for 19, Alex Carey for two, Ashton Agar for seven, and AJ Tye for a first ball duck – after Finch has scored 47 and Short 76, in his best dig of the tournament.
Even the predictable collapse shouldn’t have worried them – 183 was a very defendable total if the Australian attack concentrated on line and length.
And when Pakistan was 2-3 in their first over with Finch’s inspirational call on Maxwell’s offies to open the bowling, claiming a stumping from a wide and grabbing another caught at point, the Australians were sitting pretty.
But nobody gave a thought to the combination of audacious Pakistan batting, and trash Australian bowling.
Not only did Pakistan cruise to victory to set a new run-chase record, they chalked up their ninth successive series win to cement their rightful place as the world’s top T20 nation.
The stunning loss left the Australians red-faced in the Harare sun.
At the presentation, captain Finch congratulated Pakistan on their fightback with the ball, and their incredible run chase.
But there’s a mighty good chance he read the riot act to his troops in the shed for losing the unloseable final.
Maxwell, Stoinis, Head, and Carey were all caught as though the fieldsmen were magnets to the ball, while Agar and Tye, who can both bat, comprehensively lost their castles.
Finch could have genuinely thought 220-230 would be the Australian total after such a cracking start.
Suddenly that didn’t matter when Maxwell surpassed himself by grabbing 2-3 in his first over opening up, but he then went for 21 in his second – and Pakistan was on the way.
In the wash-up, only paceman Billy Stanlake was true to himself, the rest of his colleagues were integral members of the nightmare, with the possible exception of Jhye Richardson.
He bowled three overs for just 12 at a critical time, but went for 17 in his final over.
Agar went for 16 in his only over, so did Jack Wildermuth who had the exclusive embarrassment of it being a ten-ball over with four wides.
It was the worst over in my memory since leggie Johnny Watkins at the SCG, also against Pakistan, in the 1973 Test.
The first two deliveries headed for gully, with the third landing on the adjoining pitch, prompting keeper Rod Marsh to call out – “You’re getting closer Wocka”.
Wildermuth was all over the shop, and it’s difficult to understand how he was ever selected.
Yet if you look at the Harare series stats, three Australians were the leading wicket-takers.
Tye topped the list with 12 wickets at just 12.16 with an economy rate of 7.36, Stanlake was second with seven at 17.57 with an ER rate of 6.47. and Jhye Richardson was third with seven at 21.28 with an ER of 7.45.
But only Stanlake fired last night.
Finch topped the series run-getters with 306 at 76.50, but it was Fakhar Zaman who butchered the Australian attack last night with a lightning 91 off just 46 with 12 fours and three maximums.
That took him to second among the series run-getters with 278 runs at 55.60 to claim both the man-of-the-match and man-of-the-series, awards.
So congratulations to Pakistan on a superb run-chase, but there will be a few Australians wondering if they have played their last T20.