A match blessed with so much drama it kept coming even after the final runs had been hit and the players had left the field, illuminated with several outstanding individual performances and a couple of unexpected plot twists, ended with Matthew Wade powering Australia to victory over Pakistan and a place in the T20 World Cup final against New Zealand on Sunday.
In the moments after their unexpected pursuit of the title had been terminally derailed, Pakistan announced that before passing a fitness test on the morning of the game their opener Mohammad Rizwan had spent two nights in hospital, some of it apparently in intensive care, with a chest infection, a development they had kept secret to protect team morale. Having declared himself fully recovered Rizwan proceeded to hit a 52-ball 67, remarkably assured in the circumstances, in which the only pain was that he inflicted on the Australians.
But Australia always thought a target of 177 was achievable on a good wicket and, having started their tournament by steering them to victory over South Africa, Marcus Stoinis and Wade came together to guide them the final. “To be able to bat with Marcus has been awesome,” Wade said. “I played a lot of cricket with him at Victoria, I’ve seen him grow into the cricketer he is today, and I know if I can just hang with him for a few overs he’s going to find a boundary.
“Trying to keep calm is probably the biggest thing in the back end and I get to look down the other end and see his big rig looking to hit it out of the park.”
On this occasion it was Wade who did the more explosive hitting, with 41 off 17 balls including three successive sixes off Shaheen Shah Afridi to end the match. And so, 24 hours after England, the team that dominated Group One of the Super 12s, were knocked out of the competition, the side that dominated Group Two followed them. After an often underwhelming group stage and two high-quality, compelling semi-finals, it seems the tournament has saved its best until last, even if the best teams did not last.
Australia’s run chase got off to a terrible start, with Shaheen bowling a magnificent opening over of high-speed extreme late in-swing, and Aaron Finch absolutely blameless as he fell to his first ball of the night. But after scoring 13 runs off the first three overs of the power play Australia hit 39 off the second three as David Warner, in particular, accelerated. The 35-year-old was at his pugnacious, brutal best before his innings ended in bizarre style immediately after the drinks break. Shadab Khan ripped one past the bat, bowler and wicketkeeper instantly set off in celebration, the umpire raised his finger and the batter trudged angrily from the field.
Perhaps conscious that New Zealand’s Devon Conway had broken his hand by angrily punching his bat after getting out in the first semi-final he restricted himself to a shake of the head, but he must have been tempted to kick something when he found out there had been no contact between bat and ball, and with reviews in hand had in effect given himself out.
“I think there was a noise, maybe his bat handle clicked,” Wade said. “He didn’t think he hit it but I think Glenn [Maxwell] heard the noise, so he thought he might have hit it. It’s really tough in those situations – how many times do you see a batter think they haven’t hit it and they have? You need a bit of reassurance from the other end, I suppose.”
After Warner’s dismissal and cameos from Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell, Stoinis and Wade united to steer Australia to victory. It might have been different had Hasan Ali, off the third ball of the 19th over, not misjudged the flight of the ball and dropped Wade at deep midwicket. Had he held on Australia would have needed 20 off 10, far from impossible but certainly a challenge. As it was they ran two, Wade hit the next three for six and that was that.
Once they have recovered from their disappointment, Pakistan will find plenty of positives both in this performance and across the tournament. Babar Azam and Rizwan sit first and second on the list of top scorers, the latter overcoming a nervy start to hit 67 off 52 and become the first player in the history of the format to make 1,000 international runs in a calendar year. Fakhar Zaman was outstanding in hitting 55 off 32, while with the ball Shaheen cemented his reputation as the game’s most exciting young seamer and the 23-year-old Shadab Khan was outstanding, and took a wicket in each of his four overs (if you count Warner’s).
They came into the competition as rank outsiders but, with another T20 World Cup just 11 months away, are unlikely to be underestimated again.