x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Australians just manage to limp home

India fall out of the tournament when, despite a late collapse by Ricky Ponting's men, Pakistan fail to close low-scoring affair.

Australia's Mitchell Johnson, Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey celebrate taking the wicket of Pakistan's Shoaib Malik during the Champions Trophy match in Pretoria.
Australia's Mitchell Johnson, Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey celebrate taking the wicket of Pakistan's Shoaib Malik during the Champions Trophy match in Pretoria.

Pakistan did their best to achieve the result that millions of fans wanted - a back door entry for rivals India - but were thwarted at the post as Nathan Hauritz and Brett Lee dragged Australia over the winning line and into the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy last night.

In a thrilling finish at the SuperSport Park in Centurion, Lee scampered a bye off the final delivery to give the defending champions victory by two wickets. It meant Australia went through as winners of Group A, along with Pakistan, and rendered the result of India's match against West Indies meaningless. India needed Pakistan to win and then beat the Caribbean boys by a huge margin. At the start of every major tournament, the Pakistan captain, Younus Khan, says - usually along with a broad grin - that his preferred opponents in the final would be India.

He said the same this time, and, though the conspiracy theorists might have worried when Pakistan had the fate of their neighbours in their hands, they did their best to keep them in the tournament. The Pakistanis cobbled together what initially appeared an under-par total of 205 for six in their 50 overs, in the face of some fine fast-bowling. Mitchell Johnson passed the landmark of 100 ODI wickets when he sent back Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik.

Shane Watson did his best to prove he still has use for his bowling boots, despite the toll of numerous injuries, by dismissing the dangerous duo of Misbah-ul-Haq and Kamran Akmal. Typically, Ricky Ponting was at the forefront of the reply, and Australia looked to be cruising as he and Mike Hussey took them to 140 for two. Even after the captain fell, Hussey seemed immovable and victory was all but assumed. However, that would be to disregard international cricket's premier rule: never count out Pakistan.

Mohammed Asif, back after a year in exile due to a variety of misdemeanours, re-introduced himself to the world with two quick wickets, those of the dangerous all-rounders James Hopes and Cameron White. When Saeed Ajmal, the outstanding off-spin bowler, sent back Johnson, the South Asian side were favourites for the first time in the match. However, the final word was left to the Australian tail, as Hauritz and Lee scraped the 19 required to see them through to the last four.

Ponting said: "I had chewed all my fingernails off. It was tough to score quickly out there, the bounce was inconsistent and it spun at the end so we were a little lucky to restrict them to that total. "We've finished top of the table, and we have a good understanding of how the conditions are here and we look forward to taking on England." Younus admitted he had not expected such a tight ending at the interval.

The captain said: "They had a fantastic time with the ball, and got partnerships going when they batted, But suddenly, we came back hard and it was a great finish. "The pitch was a little soft in the morning, not a bad pitch for cricket. Irrespective of who you play in the semis, you just have to stick to your plans." pradley@thenational.ae