T20 World Cup: Australia's fortunes hinge 
on Warner's bat

Australia's David Warner celebrates after scoring a half century against Sri Lanka. (AFP)
Australia's David Warner celebrates after scoring a half century against Sri Lanka. (AFP)

In the league matches, Australia's batting was often in a dither, linked directly to how David Warner performed

By Ayaz Memon

Published: Thu 11 Nov 2021, 12:10 AM

Pakistan have coasted into the semifinals, winning all five matches in the league phase without much ado. Australia, in spite of four wins, have had a somewhat bumpy ride. Luck was on their side that South Africa, who too have four wins, had failed to cash in on an easy target against Bangladesh which would have boosted their Net Run Rate and got them into the knockout rounds.

Looked at simplistically, this would suggest that Pakistan start as firm favourites. But Babar Azam would be extremely wary of his team being cocky and underestimating the Aussies, who have a star-studded line-up, players of flair and flourish and depth of experience which can matter so much at this stage of the tournament.

In the league matches, Australia’s batting was often in a dither, linked directly to how David Warner performed. When he clicked, the Aussies won handsomely, as in the matches against Sri Lanka, and more crucially against West Indies which helped spike the NRR. When he failed, the Aussies struggled to win. Against arch rivals England, with Warner failing, Australia were trounced.

This is a seeming vulnerability that Pakistan would like to exploit. If the Shaheen Shah Afridi-led Pakistani attack gets Warner cheaply, it opens up a wobbly middle order that hasn’t exactly fired. Steve Smith has played as the pivot to keep one end going while others around him go for their strokes, but that tactic hasn’t paid dividends with Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade being stymied either by the opposition bowling or the slow pitches.

Mitchell Marsh’s hard-hitting half century in the match against West Indies couldn’t have been better timed for it promises more heft in the middle order. But unless the Aussie batsmen make the powerplay count – which means a good start from Warner and captain Aaron Finch – Pakistan’s strong bowling could choke the runs and take control of the match.

Pakistan’s splendidly balanced attack has been the bane of opponents. Afridi has hot pace and late swing, Haris Rauf’s pace is even more thunderous which he craftily allies with slower deliveries, Hasan Ali doesn’t bowl with the same velocity but gets swing and seam movement with excellent control.

This wicket-taking pace trio apart, the attack includes Imad Wasim whose left arm spin is delivered at fair nip. He uses the new ball, delivering at angles and length which batsmen have found difficult to score off. Leg spinner Shadab Khan relies on flight, loop and guile to lure batsmen to their doom. It’s an attack which can test the best line-up as India discovered to their dismay. How much Australia have learnt from watching these bowlers in action this tournament remains to be seen.

Pakistan’s batting has been far more successful than Australia’s, with runs coming for all frontline batsmen, so much so that all-rounders Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan haven’t had much to do with bat. Babar Azam has oozed class in hitting four half-centuries, his partner Mohammad Rizwan’s unorthodox methods have unsettled most bowling attacks. Fakhar Zaman has only one big score to his credit, but has looked threatening every time.

Veterans Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik have looked in terrific nick, scoring runs with abandon. Malik’s scorching 18-ball 54 against Scotland with six sixes showed that the 39-year-old still has zest, ambition and fitness to compete at the highest level. Perhaps most important has been the form of Asif Ali as finisher, who twice pulled his team out of tight situations with some incredible hitting in the slog overs.

But against a bowling line-up that has all-format maestros Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and white ball specialists Stoinis, Marsh, Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar — supported by brilliant fielding — Pakistan’s batting will be put under hard scrutiny. The group from which England and Australia qualified, was far tougher than the other one from which Pakistan reached the semis.

This gap in rigour for these two teams could be crucial, though it must also be said that the UAE has been Pakistan’s ‘home’ turf for years, and they know conditions and pitches better than any other side. Moreover, in the knockout stage, whatever’s happened earlier is of little consequence. This is do-or-die time.

Having never won the T20 World Cup, Australia are now two steps away from achieving their biggest win in this format.

Deeply hurt by New Zealand and England’s refusal to play in Pakistan recently over non-cricketing reasons, Babar’s team have now found the perfect stage to make a statement.

This should be a heck of a contest!

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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