Australia scrape over the line
Australia set up an ICC Champions Trophy semi-final meeting with England after they clinched top spot in Group A with a last-ball two-wicket win over Pakistan at Centurion today.
Ricky Ponting’s side began the day knowing victory would book their place in the last four and, after restricting Pakistan to 205 for six, were seemingly cruising to their target on 140 for two.
However, they then lost six wickets for 47 to throw their qualification for the semi-finals into jeopardy, with India also on course to achieve the thumping win against West Indies they needed if Australia fell short.
But Brett Lee and Nathan Hauritz held their nerve under pressure to score the 19 runs they needed from the 25 balls available.
It means Australia will now again meet England, less than a fortnight after the NatWest Series, in Friday’s last-four clash at SuperSport Park. Pakistan face New Zealand in Saturday’s semi at the Wanderers.
Australia will have the advantage of having seen first hand the surprises on offer in the Centurion wicket, which played a major role in today’s game.
Mike Hussey, who struck 64, was the only batsman to pass 50 on a tricky surface on which the batsmen found it difficult to play their strokes.
Hussey combined with skipper Ricky Ponting in an 81-run stand for the third wicket after openers Shane Watson and Tim Paine, who made 22 and 29 respectively, had got Australia off to a solid start.
Ponting had patiently reached 32, from 64 balls, but mistimed a slog-sweep off Shoaib Malik for Umar Gul to take a fine diving catch in the deep.
It triggered the middle-order collapse as Pakistan fought back. Saeed Ajmal bowled Callum Ferguson with a ball that turned viciously before Hussey’s fine innings was ended when Rana-ul-Naved knocked back his off stump with a yorker.
Mohammad Asif, making his return to international cricket after his lengthy ban, grabbed two wickets in an over when James Hopes ballooned a drive to Younus Khan, before nipping one back off a length to bowl Cameron White to leave Australia struggling on 176 for seven.
Australia then applied the batting powerplay and, though Johnson hit Ajmal to the cover boundary, he was bowled next ball to leave his side needing 18 from the final four overs.
Naved then bowled a maiden, his second in a row, to even the equation, before Ajmal’s next over cost eight.
Australia needed three from the final over to get the tie that was enough to send them through and achieved that from the penultimate ball, before a scampered bye from the final ball gave them a eighth win in their past 10 ODIs.
Earlier, Pakistan failed to capitalise on a brisk start as their middle order struggled with the surface.
Shahid Afridi was promoted to open the innings but made just 15 before spooning a pull off Johnson to backward square-leg where Hopes took a good sprawling catch.
Fellow opener Kamran Akmal played some fine off-side strokes in his 44 before dragging Watson on, to leave Pakistan 75 for two in the 19th over.
Shoaib Malik announced his arrival with a glorious straight six off Hopes, but from there the scoring slowed with just 71 runs added between overs 20 and 40.
Younus laboured to 18 from 49 balls before he lost patience and lofted a drive off Hopes that Johnson held on to after retreating back from mid-on.
Johnson then took his 100th ODI wicket when Shoaib found Ponting at short cover for 27.
Hauritz slowed the rate further, conceding just 24 from his seven overs, before Lee had Mohammad Yousuf was caught for 44 by White at square-leg in the batting powerplay.
Misbah-ul-Haq was out in comical fashion for 41 in the final over when he conspired to tread on his stumps to a Watson wide as Pakistan crawled past 200.