Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pakistan slay the ghost of St. Lucia

It was 2010, Pakistan were the defending T20 Champions, and they were up against Australia in the semi final of the 3rd edition of the ICC World T20 in St. Lucia, West Indies.

Pakistan were one of the favorites to win the title and repeat their 2009 win, and they looked well on their way to a third straight final after posting 191-6 in their 20 overs.


That is the exact same score that Pakistan managed in today's world T20 group game against Australia.

In 2010, it was the Akmal brothers, each of whom managed a 50, who set up Pakistan for a big total.

Today, it was also the Akmal brothers who put together a 96 run partnership to bring Pakistan back into the game after they were 25-2 in 4 overs.

In 2010, Pakistan were well on course to make it to their third straight World T20 final when they had Australia reeling at 105-5 after 12 overs.

But then Cameron White and Mike Hussey went on a wild rampage to give Australia an unlikely win, reaching their target with 1 ball to spare after Hussey smashed three sixes of Ajmal in the final over of the chase.

Saeed Ajmal has gone on record to say that he still thinks about that final over. No one has ever treated Ajmal the way Hussey did in that 2010 semi final.

Till Glen Maxwell today.

Australia started on their chase of 192 today in the worst possible manner, losing both Warner and Watson in the first over of the Australian innings to Zulfiqar Babar, who gave Pakistan the ideal start.

From there Glen Maxwell and Aaron Finch proceeded to destroy Pakistan's bowling, including the magician Saeed Ajmal, hitting him for 25 runs off his first two overs.

While Maxwell and Finch continued to score at over 12 an over, the ghosts of St. Lucia came back to haunt the Pakistan team and the fans.

They put on 118 runs in just 10.4 overs as Maxwell smashed every bowler to all corners of the park. His onslaught also included a 30 run over off Bilawal Bhatti.

When Maxwell departed, Australia were left with only 66 runs to get off 50 deliveries with 7 wickets in hand.

From there, it should have been a walk in the park.

In 2010, it was over number 12 that turned the tide in Australia's favor. Today, it was also over number 12 that turned the tide; but this time in Pakistan's favor as they finally slayed the ghosts of St. Lucia.

Those 23 runs that Mike Hussey smashed of Ajmal in the final over in St. Lucia to steal the semi final from Pakistan was exactly the same number of runs that Australia required of the final over in Dhaka.

However this time, Pakistan managed to defend it successfully despite the bowler being Bilawal Bhatti who had earlier bowled only 1 over in the innings, which had gone for 30 runs!

It was a big game for Pakistan, a must win game, and how they delivered under pressure.

Before the match, Mohammad Hafeez mentioned how he had told his players to go out there and express themselves fearlessly.

Express fearlessly is exactly what they did.

Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul, and Shahid Afridi, the top 3 leading wicket takers in T20 internationals brought Pakistan back into the game after the initial onslaught by Maxwell and Finch.

It was T20 bowling at its best. They expressed and stood up to be counted.

The one man who surpassed all others in expressing himself fearlessly was Umar Akmal.

Pakistan's best limited overs batsman set the game up for Pakistan with a magnificent knock of 94 off 54 deliveries, his highest score in T20 internationals.

Umar Akmal has faced a lot of criticism from all quarters, which I believe has been quite unfair. He is by far the most talented batsman that Pakistan has and he has been their best batsman in ODIs and T20s for a long time now.

His score of 94 is the second highest T20 score by a Pakistan batsman, just falling short of Ahmed Shehzad's 98* against Zimbabwe last year.

It was Umar Akmal's 6th fifty in T20 internationals, which is the second highest number of T20 50s for Pakistan, behind Hafeez' 7.

Umar Akmal's tally of 1,220 runs in T20 internationals is the second highest number of runs for a Pakistan batsman, only 58 behind that of skipper Hafeez. His T20 average of 29 is also the second best T20 average for a Pakistan batsman, behind Misbah's 37.

Those numbers speak volumes of the contribution that Umar Akmal has made to this Pakistan T20 team. His numbers in ODIs are also quite awesome.

Today he definitely showed why he is the best batsman in Pakistan.

And Pakistan definitely showed that their encounter against India was a minor blip. They are still serious contenders in the World T20.

This victory will give their confidence a huge boost and other teams should watch out for them as Pakistan are at their best when playing fearless aggressive cricket.

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