After rain had led to two games resulting in points being shared, cricket fans were pleading with the rain gods for Australia versus Pakistan to remain a full contest.
Having won the toss on a cloudy day in Taunton, Pakistan elected to bowl first, hoping to exploit whatever moisture there was on the wicket in the first hour of play.
Shaheen Shah Afridi came in for leg-spinner Shadab Khan while Australia had to make a forced change due to an injury to Marcus Stoinis. Shaun Marsh came in while Kane Richardson replaced Adam Zampa. The commentary of ESPN Cricinfo perfectly described the XIs: “it’s seam or bust today”.
Despite a few play-and-misses, Pakistan’s bowlers failed to take advantage of the conditions as David Warner and Aaron Finch took Australia to 56 for no loss at the power play. Finch and Warner continued their attacking display as Finch reached his half century off 63 balls.
After reaching his 50, Finch was teeing off and looked set for triple figures before Mohammad Amir dismissed him for 82. David Warner kept Australia’s momentum going, and despite the loss of Steve Smith (ten off 13), Australia were 2-218 after 33 overs. Warner was not out on 90 and Glenn Maxwell was 20 off eight, and 350 was on the cards, possibly even 400 if they were lucky.
Shaheen Shah Afridi dismissed Maxwell in the 34th over, but Warner kept on motoring along en route to a 102-ball century. The boy from Matraville had finally regained form and had scored his first ODI century since September 2017, and he celebrated with the trademark leap.
Soon after his hundred, Warner sliced one straight to deep square, and things slowly went downhill for Australia. From 3-242 in the 38th over, Australia were bowled out for 307 in the 49th over. Aaron Finch and David Warner scored 189 of those runs, while no one else could score more than 25. Mohammad Amir’s five-for had brought Pakistan back into the match, and now, it would be up to the batsmen to chase down 308.
The chase started poorly for Pakistan as Fakhar Zaman edged one to the hands of third man for a three-ball duck. Babar Azam (30 off 28) came in at three and played many flashy drives that were pleasing on the eye before Nathan Coulter-Nile had the Pakistani batsman hooking it straight to fine leg.
Mohammad Hafeez (46 off 49) joined Imam-ul-Haq (53 off 75) as the pair revived the Pakistan innings. With Glenn Maxwell playing as Australia’s fifth bowler, Hafeez attacked him with no mercy while Imam reached his 50 off 73 deliveries. Pakistan were 2-136 at the halfway stage with two set batsmen at the crease. Game on.
But just when Imam was taking Pakistan home, he gloved one down the leg side to Alex Carey. To ensure that Pakistan remained under pressure after Imam’s wicket, Aaron Finch brought on his trump card – his own left-arm part-timers. Pakistan has this habit of glorifying part-timers in international cricket, and Mohammad Hafeez didn’t let us down as he spanked a Finch full toss into the hands of Mitchell Starc. Pakistan would soon go down to 6-160 after 30 overs. From a very promising position, the Pakistanis were collapsing towards defeat.
While Sarfaraz Ahmed was trying to take the game deep by holding an end, Hasan Ali was slogging the Aussie bowlers all around the park before he was dismissed in the 34th over for 32. Wahab Riaz and Sarfaraz bided their time before taking on the bowlers, slowly chipping away to the target. The pair put on a 50-plus stand for the eighth wicket as Pakistan needed 45 off 36.
But then Finch’s second trump card Mitch Starc broke the game wide open, dismissing Riaz for 45 and Mohammad Amir for a second-ball duck. Some outstanding fielding and quick thinking from Glenn Maxwell saw Sarfaraz Ahmed run out for 40 as Australia won by 41 runs.
Australia had opportunities with both bat and ball to close this game out and not make it as close as it was. But the never-give-up attitude by the Pakistan bowlers with bat and ball had given Pakistan fans hope of an upset, but it was not meant to be.
This game gave Aaron Finch and David Warner the form they were chasing in the World Cup, and it would bode well for the rest of the tournament. For Pakistan, this was a poor performance despite Mohammad Amir’s five-for. The bowlers leaked too many runs in the first 20 overs while the batting was way below par.