Babar, Imam seal series victory after Pakistan’s quicks shock Australia 

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Pakistan 214 for 1 (Babar 105, Imam 89*) beat Australia 210 (Carey 56, Abbott 49, Rauf 3-39, Wasim 3-40) by nine wickets

(CRICNCO) After a month of Australia making Pakistan work for every run, wicket and win, here was the exception to the rule. In a rare lacklustre performance, Australia found themselves blown away by a dominant performance as they were crushed by nine wickets to seal a 2-1 series win.

It came courtesy of a fiery fast bowling performance, and an unbeaten 190-run partnership between Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq. Pakistan had put Australia in to bat, skittling them out inside 42 overs for 210 before making light work of that target on a featherbed of a surface, with Imam and Babar making an unexperienced Australian bowling attack look particularly toothless. An undefeated 105 by Babar, his second consecutive hundred, and an unbeaten 89 from Imam helped Pakistan canter to a nine-wicket win with 73 balls to spare.

Australia knew it was coming, and yet there seemed no way to stop it. A sensational – and yet by now, almost predictable – first over from Shaheen Shah Afridi got rid of Travis Head, dealing Australia a blow that left them groggy throughout the innings, and Haris Rauf removed Aaron Finch before Australia were off the mark.

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Magicians tend not to perform their tricks too often, but repetition doesn’t make Afridi any less inscrutable. It was a full toss that did for Head first up, but with the moving in the air, there was little the batter could do to prevent it crashing into off stump.

Finch has struggled this series, and it showed in the way he tried to tackle Rauf, playing listlessly across the line and finding himself trapped plumb in front. Australia were yet to put a run on the board, and the discipline of Pakistan’s pace bowlers meant they couldn’t get off to the brisk start that characterised their first two innings. Rauf coaxed an edge out of Marnus Labuschagne early, and the normally fluid Ben McDermott got bogged down, managing just 14 in his first 34 balls.

Australia looked to be rebuilding with a 53-run stand, but Zahid Mahmood drew a leading edge from Marcus Stoinis as Imam took a sharp catch, before Mohammad Wasim ended McDermott’s innings of attrition. A handy rearguard from Alex Carey and Cameron Green followed, with the batters capitalising on a drop in intensity from the hosts. The field spread out and easy singles are available, and with the frontline fast bowlers out of the attack, Australia were steadily rebuilding as they pushed towards a competitive total. Carey brought up a 55-ball half century two balls after a glorious six over cover drive off Wasim, and for the first time, Pakistan were on the back foot.

That ended soon after, though, when a bit of reverse swing did for Green as he heaved wildly across the line. It opened the floodgates, and four wickets fell for 18 runs as Rauf and Afridi returned to chip in. But in an entertaining six-over passage of play, Sean Abbott threw caution to the wind, swinging for the fences just about every delivery, riding his luck and further antagonising an increasingly irate Afridi. He managed the strike expertly; Adam Zampa never even got off the mark through the partnership, and by the time he chipped one to short third off Rauf, he’d scored a 40-ball 49. With the target set at 211, Abbott had given himself and his fellow bowlers something to work with.

But two days out from a match that saw 348 prove inadequate, any hope Australia harboured of a series win hinged on early wickets, and several of them. It was in that department where Australia’s absences were really felt tonight. Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Ellis and Abbott simply don’t possess the qualities of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, and especially Mitchell Starc to blast out an opposition, not least a top order as settled as Pakistan’s is right now.

Fakhar Zaman fell for a brisk 17, but with the asking rate hovering around four, the match situation was primed for the more sedate and assured Babar and Imam. Babar being put down at short midwicket on 1 felt like a significant moment in the game, but Australia’s sloppiness in the early overs meant it didn’t come as much of a surprise. A couple of boundaries in the ninth over composed the Pakistan captain, and once that partnership established a foothold, any Australian optimism quickly fizzled out.

What followed was a cavalcade of class from the two highest runscorers this series. They appeared to rotate the strike and find the boundaries at will against spin and seam alike. Imam skipped down the wicket to smash Zampa to cow corner, before Babar caressed boundaries off Green off the next two balls either side of the wicket as the target and asking rate shrunk by the over. At last, it looked like a contest between a full-strength home side and a depleted touring party stretched particularly thin.

Babar was the more proactive partner, and got a 16th ODI hundred before the game was won, as the two old friends performed a little jig mid-run to celebrate. Imam, meanwhile, would be denied the chance for a third successive hundred simply because Pakistan ran out of runs to chase, and capped a sensational series by knocking off the winning runs, skipping down the wicket to send Labuschagne down the ground.

On a tour where Australia have been blown away by Pakistan’s hospitality, tonight was the night the generosity finally ran out.



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