A classic Pakistan implosion handed Australia their third win of the World Cup last night after the Aussies had coughed up a chance to make a massive score batting first.
Pakistan were in control of the match at 2-136 after 25 overs chasing 308, with Imam ul Haq and Mohammad Hafeez batting well, unbeaten on 53 and 44 respectively.
Australia looked particularly vulnerable because of the fact they still needed to get up to 12 more overs out of Kane Richardson and Glenn Maxwell, who had been very expensive, conceding 0-55 from their eight overs to that point.
Then Pakistan fell apart, as they so often do, in 15 balls of madness. Within that brief period they not only lost three wickets, but also handed Australia another two golden chances which they squandered.
First up Imam ul-Haq got a short ball from Pat Cummins that was going for a wide well down the leg side.
The left hander was anchoring the chase beautifully and looked intent on batting through the innings. Then, for some unknown reason, ul-Haq decided to chase this wayward Cummins delivery and succeeded only in strangling it through to wicketkeeper Alex Carey.
Seven balls later the Aussie gloveman missed a simple stumping when new batsman Sarfraz Ahmed overbalanced against a rank leg side delivery from part time spinner Aaron Finch.
Carey juggled the ball, allowing Sarfraz time to get back into his crease. That saved the Pakistan captain from what would have been an awfully embarrassing dismissal against a very unthreatening bowler.
Then Hafeez decided he would be the one to be humiliated by Finch. The left arm spinner looped up the most gentle of full tosses, the kind of juicy delivery batsmen dream about whether awake or asleep.
Instead of slugging it many rows into the crowd, the only treatment it deserved, Hafeez somehow bunted the ball straight to deep midwicket.
The chaos continued the very next ball when Sarfraz hit the ball straight to gun fieldsman David Warner, called yes and sold new batsman Shoaib Malik down the river.
Warner would have been disappointed after missing the stumps from a short distance and a favourable angle. Had he hit Shoaib would have been out without even facing a single ball.
Shoaib only hung around for two deliveries in any case. From the second ball he faced the all-rounder inside edged a cracking delivery from Pat Cummins to give a catch to Carey. Pakistan had lost 3-11 in this shambolic 15-ball period.
Sarfraz didn’t give up and steered his team nicely, supported by a couple of lusty knocks from tail enders Hasan Ali (32 from 15 balls) and Wahab Riaz (45 from 39 balls). But that earlier collapse cruelled them and they fell 42 runs short of victory.
The Aussies now need to win just three of their next five matches to be all but assured of qualifying for the semi-finals.
Earlier the Aussies wasted a fantastic platform set by openers David Warner (107 from 111 balls) and Aaron Finch (82 from 84 balls). Warner was very impressive, looking far more positive after his oddly-stilted innings against India.
At 0-146 from 22 overs Australia were well positioned to make a monster score of 370-plus and nearly bat Pakistan out of the match.
However a succession of loose shots and poor decisions saw them squander that opportunity and put up a middling score on a small Taunton ground.
Australia then once more relied heavily on opening bowlers Pat Cummins (3-33) and Mitchell Starc (2-42). The remainder of the Australian attack was decidedly ordinary.
Playing his first game of the tournament, seamer Kane Richardson was very poor, and was flattered by his figures of 2-62 from eight overs.
All-rounder Maxwell (0-58 from seven overs) was also clattered, which likely puts paid to the idea of Australia playing five specialist batsmen as they did yesterday.
Australia will surely pick a second all-rounder from here on – either Marcus Stoinis if he recovers from his side strain, or Mitchell Marsh should he replace Stoinis in the squad.
Above all, Australia were fortunate to win yesterday. Pakistan coughed up a match that was in their grasp with a trademark burst of panic.