Adelaide: Four-time former champions Australia set up an explosive semifinal clash against title-holders India in the cricket World Cup semifinal after comprehensively beating Pakistan by six wickets in the mega-event's third quarterfinal here today.
Set a modest target of 214, Australia overcame a tumultuous start to go past the finishing line in 33.5 overs after the home pacers, led by Josh Hazlewood (4/35), wrecked the Pakistani line-up.
Steve Smith top-scored for the Aussies with a 69-ball 65 knock, which was studded with seven fours, while all-rounder Shane Watson survived early jitters to carefully craft an unbeaten 66-ball 64, including seven fours and a six.
Shane Watson. Pic/ AFP
Pakistan had themselves to blame for the World Cup ouster as they dropped two easy catches, allowing the hosts to wriggle out of a precarious position. Australia's chase was not off to a very smooth start with opener Aaron Finch departing in the third over after contributing just 2 runs. The David Warner blitzkrieg also ended pretty quickly after the dasher had made 24 off 23 deliveries, including three fours.
In fact, Wahab Riaz was simply outstanding in his opening spell of six overs, during which he snared two wickets conceding only 24 runs. The pacer bowled with aggression and passion, unsettling the Aussies with not just his deliveries but also with occasional glares and constant chirps, which irked the batsmen and invited jeers from the packed crowd.
Riaz could well have pulled off three wickets in the opening spell had Rahat Ali held on to a dolly in the 17th over when Watson was on just 4 runs. He eventually finished with figures of 2/54 from nine overs.
Australians were poised rather precariously at 59 for three after skipper Michael Clarke (8) failed to click. However, Smith and Watson shared 89 runs for the fourth wicket to steer Australia out of trouble before Glenn Maxwell (44 not out) guided them to victory and a semifinal showdown with India on March 26 in Sydney.
Smith was adjudged LBW off Ehsan Adil and despite being unconvinced by the decision, the batsman had to trudge off the field as Australia had exhausted their lone review by that stage. His fall did raise hopes of a Pakistan revival but they again let the opportunity slip when Sohail Khan dropped Maxwell's miscued shot, once again leaving Riaz in agony.
Earlier, Josh Hazlewood stood out with a four-wicket haul as Australia's disciplined bowlers strangled Pakistan with a thoroughly commanding performance, skittling them out for 213. Electing to bat after winning the toss, Pakistan were stifled for runs by the Aussie bowlers and folded without putting up much of a fight in 49.5 overs.
Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc (2/40) kept it tight to begin with before Mitchell Johnson (1/42) intimidated the Pakistanis with his ferocious pace. The pressure exerted early on brought the desired result quite quickly as the in-form Sarfraz Ahmed (10) departed after trying to find his rhythm for 16 deliveries. The opener struck one four before edging a tough grab to Shane Watson in the slip region.
Sarfraz's opening partner Ahmed Shehzad did not last long either and was also caught in the slips by Australian captain Michael Clarke off Hazlewood's bowling. The score read 24 for two at that stage. The failure to get a good start hurt Pakistan badly as the middle order batsmen failed to get going barring Haris Sohail, who notched up a 57-ball 41 laced with four hits to
the fence. The ever-reliant Misbah-ul-Haq could not build on the start today and was dismissed by Glenn Maxwell while attempting a slog-sweep that was caught by Aaron Finch.
Misbah's 34 runs came off 59 balls and included one four and two sixes, both coming off Maxwell's bowling. Interestingly, the veteran had earlier been saved by the bail which did not come off despite Hazlewood breaching his defences to hit the stumps.
The procession back to the pavillion continued when Umar Akmal (20 off 25 balls) was caught by Finch off Maxwell again. Five down for 126 in less than 30 overs, Pakistan looked in deep trouble when Shahid Afridi raised hopes with some early power-hitting. However, the temperamental all-rounder also went back to pavillion after playing one of his now trademark cameos, which entertained while it lasted but did not help the team's cause much.
Afridi was dismissed while trying to smack Hazlewood out of the park, holing out to Aaron Finch after adding 23 runs that came off 15 deliveries and included three fours and a lofty six off Johnson. With the top half letting the team down, the lower order was never expected to hold up for too long and this is exactly what happened with Hazlewood and Starc cleaning up the tail.