Sunday, 26 September 2021

Australia cruise to victory on Steven Smith ton

PERTH: “We’ve traditionally chased pretty well here at the WACA,” Steven Smith said after sending Pakistan in to bat. Perhaps what he meant was that he chases pretty well at the WACA. Last summer, Smith plundered 149 as Australia hunted down a target of 310 against India, winning in the last over. This time it was easier – Australia passed Pakistan’s 263 with five overs left – but again a Smith hundred got them there. Smith finished unbeaten on 108, his eighth ODI century, as Australia took a 2-1 lead in the series. There were important contributions from a range of sources – Peter Handscomb struck 82 on debut, Josh Hazlewood took 3 for 32 from his 10 overs, and Travis Head took two wickets and then hit the winning runs – but Smith was the architect of the victory. Pakistani sloppiness was another major factor in the result. Twice before he had passed 10 runs, Handscomb was the recipient of good fortune. First he was caught at slip, and reprieved by a late call of a Junaid Khan no-ball, and then he was dropped at point – Junaid had overstepped again, in any case. But for the first of the no-balls, Australia could have been 3 for 46 in the 11th over; the third wicket did not truly fall until Australia had 228 on the board, and the job was almost done. Early wickets gave Pakistan hope. Australia’s openers both fell within the first 10 overs, Usman Khawaja caught behind for 9 off Mohammad Amir, who found some swing with the new ball, and David Warner caught behind off Junaid for 35. But after Handscomb’s let-offs, the wind went out of Pakistan’s sails, and a 183-run partnership between Smith and Handscomb set the tone for the chase. Handscomb milked singles and struck six fours, though three of those were genuine edges past or over the wicketkeeper, and finished with the third-highest score by an Australian on ODI debut. Only Phillip Hughes (112 against Sri Lanka in 2013) and Phil Jaques (94 against South Africa in 2006) had scored more in their first one-day international for Australia. Eventually his luck ran out and he was caught behind trying to hook Hasan Ali.

Head struck an unbeaten 23, including the winning boundary, and Australia wrapping up the win with seven wickets in hand meant Glenn Maxwell neither batted nor bowled in the match. As has been the case throughout this series, Head was the only spinner Australia used, while also batting ahead of Maxwell. It is a strange scenario that Maxwell finds himself in, but for Australia a win is a win, regardless of who contributes. Here, the major contributor was Smith, who looked far more fluent than Handscomb, and reached his century from 97 balls, finishing with 11 fours and a six. Along the way, Smith became the fastest Australian to the milestone of 3000 runs in ODIs, getting there in his 79th innings – one quicker than both Michael Bevan and George Bailey. But it was the final ten overs of Pakistan’s innings that really turned this match. Sharjeel Khan had given them a platform with 50 at better than a run a ball, and Babar Azam built it up further with a half-century of his own, yet Pakistan were unable to make the 300-plus total that would really have challenged Australia. From 4 for 213 after 40 overs, they should at least have got close. Instead, Azam and Umar Akmal both fell to Josh Hazlewood, who in the absence of the resting Mitchell Starc was outstanding and finished with 3 for 32 from his 10 overs, and Pakistan’s momentum evaporated. The final five overs brought Pakistan only 21 runs, and just a single boundary. Pakistan had struggled to 7 for 263, a total that looked only just competitive. The innings started briskly for Pakistan when Sharjeel plundered 20 runs off the fourth over, bowled by the raw fast bowler Billy Stanlake. A six was pulled imperiously over midwicket and was followed by three consecutive fours, which left Stanlake with 2-0-27-0 in his second ODI. But Hazlewood struck with the very next delivery when he trapped Mohammad Hafeez lbw for 4.

Sharjeel again picked off three consecutive boundaries later in his innings, this time off Head, but next ball chopped on for 50 from 47 deliveries to give Head the first of his two wickets. Asad Shafiq also fell to Head on 5 when he advanced and sent a thick edge to short third man, but Azam then found a willing ally and put on 63 with Shoaib Malik for the fourth wicket. But on 39, Malik became the first international wicket for Stanlake when he edged behind, and Azam was joined by his cousin, Akmal. They combined for a 60-run stand that should have been terminated earlier, when Akmal danced down the pitch to Head and missed an agricultural heave, but Wade failed to glove the ball and missed a straightforward stumping. Azam was the key for Pakistan. Although he struck only four fours and one six in his 84, he gave Pakistan something to work with, and in fact scored more in this innings along than he did in the entire Test series against Australia. Along the way, Azam also joined Viv Richards, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Quinton de Kock in reaching 1000 ODI runs in 21 innings, the all-time record. But Pakistan needed him to turn it into a century. Instead, Azam pulled Hazlewood and was brilliantly caught at deep midwicket by a diving Handscomb, and in Hazlewood’s next over Akmal gloved a bouncer through to Matthew Wade for 39. Another stunning catch in the next over, this time Head running with the flight of the ball at mid-off, robbed Pakistan of Imad Wasim for 9. With the late wickets went Pakistan’s hopes of a total anywhere near 300 – and that was what they needed. Australia cruised to their target with 30 balls to spare, and took a 2-1 lead in the five-match campaign. It will take some sort of effort for Pakistan to win the series from here.

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