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Australia Survive Wahab Riaz's Fiery Spell, Pakistan Drops The World Cup

20/03/2015 8:47 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Australia's Shane Watson, left, celebrates with teammate Glenn Maxwell after they defeated Pakistan by six wickets in their Cricket World Cup quarterfinal match in Adelaide, Australia, Friday, March 20, 2015. (AP Photo/James Elsby)

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That catches win matches is among the oldest truisms in the sport, but the most relevant still. When a match is delicately poised, a catch or a run out can alter not just the trend of play, but sometimes even the result.

Pakistan will look back at their quarter-final defeat to Australia with remorse. Not having run up a big enough score despite winning the toss, they had two opportunities to come back into the game and muffed up both.

The two catches were put down at crucial points, releasing the pressure on Australia, and confirming Pakistan's exit from the tournament. But it could well have been different.

The scorecard will reveal that Australia won by 6 wickets and 97 balls to spare to reach the semi-final of the World Cup. The margin of victory is huge enough to suggest a cakewalk, though it was anything but that.

"In six torrid overs, Wahab Riaz, bowling with hostility and accuracy, had the Australians on the ropes.

For at least 90 minutes when Australia were chasing down a very modest target of 214, it appeared that Pakistan might pull off an upset. The first breakthrough came when Sohail Khan trapped Aaron Finch plumb in front of the stumps, but the real drama began when Wahab Riaz came on to bowl.

In six torrid overs, Wahab Riaz, bowling with hostility and accuracy, had the Australians on the ropes, to borrow a phrase from another sport. David Warner, trying to smash the bowling around for a quick finish, was well caught at third man. A couple of overs later, Michael Clarke was caught at short leg off a snorter that stood up from a short of length.

Suddenly, the pendulum had swung the other way and the cocky Australians - specially Shane Watson -- were reduced to hopping around as if they were in a minefield, not knowing where the explosion would come from.

Wahab, abetted splendidly by his captain Misba-ul-Haq who set attacking fields, tested the batsmen with pace, swing and short-pitched deliveries, all mixed up superbly. While the in-form Smith managed to keep his composure, Watson was so flustered that he looked like getting out every delivery.In that split second, Pakistan's prospects of making it to the semi-finals suffered its biggest jolt.

And he should have when Wahab got him hooking at a delivery which was headed straight for his head. All in a tangle, not in any position to play the hook, Watson top-edged it to fine-leg where Rahat Ali did not even have to move a foot, simply cup his hands and wait for the ball to drop in.

It did, and popped out. In that split second, Pakistan's prospects of making it to the semi-finals suffered its biggest jolt. It was a dolly catch that would be taken even by schoolboys, but Rahat, who had done so well in catching Warner earlier, muffed it. Pakistan's best moment had come and gone.

But Wahab created half a chance of an upheaval again in his second spell when the score was 153. He had Glen Maxwell playing a desperate, ungainly hoick at a bouncer which went high and towards third man. But this chance was squandered as well, Sohail Khan couldn't hold on to the catch.

It is a moot point, though something which will be debated for long -- whether Pakistan would have won even if these two catches had been taken. Australia bat very deep and the target was not very stiff.

But given the trend of play when Wahab - in his first spell specially - was giving a torrid time to the batsmen. The Australians then appeared highly vulnerable, and a couple of quick wickets could have seen them slip into the doldrums from where recovery may have been difficult.

The pressure of playing at this level and at this stage of the tournament is obviously intense. But how players cope with it separates the good from the mediocre.

Pakistan, frankly, have looked a below par team in this tournament and in some ways were lucky to reach this far. Their biggest failing - fielding - was bound to catch up with them at some stage.

That it had to come in the quarter-final teaches a harsh, but essential lesson.

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