What a strange kind of win this is for Pakistan. It is an impressive one; there should be no mistaking that. The first team to beat Australia in a World Cup in 35 games and 12 years was always going to have to play a big game to do it. To top the group, with just one loss, is something very few would have predicted before the tournament began.
And to draw, potentially, the weakest of the qualifiers from Group B – that is just a numerical reality in this most-open tournament, not a comment on whichever side it eventually is – means Pakistan could have asked for nothing more. Yet, as much as the win should mean, it might mean nothing at all by the next game. It is that kind of an in between triumph.
From the evidence of six games, from the evidence of this win, there is enough to suggest that Shahid Afridi’s pre-tournament target of a semi-final spot is eminently achievable. It was before the tournament began as well, but deeds are achieved on the field, not on paper.
Pakistan’s bowling won them this game. It is what always wins them games and what always makes them a contender. It is why they don’t go the way of West Indies or New Zealand, because they always have an attack that can do a job; bowl sides out in Tests, defend targets in ODIs.
Umar Gul again led the way and he is increasingly becoming a pivotal figure in the campaign. Waqar Younis’ presence as coach is no coincidence, as it wasn’t when Gul went through an earlier phase of success in 2006, with Waqar as bowling coach at the time. “He’s improving day by day,” Waqar said, with a hint of pride. “He’s found his right length and he’s not only bowling straight but with some pace. He’s attacking areas where it’s hard to hit, so he’s getting better and better, which is great for the team.”
There was no let-up behind him. Abdur Rehman used defence smartly as attack; Wahab Riaz recovered after an iffy start and even Abdul Razzaq clocked in. Mohammad Hafeez’s batting has hit a dip again, but his bowling has assumed greater importance and his spell at the Premadasa was the one that really took the life out of Australia’s innings.
It would have been nothing without a fielding display about as sharp as any Pakistan has put together under Afridi and Waqar. Hafeez was operating a kind of Sri Lanka-like choke, darting them in but turning them also, forcing batsmen to play to short midwicket – a crucial position in any strangle – who would swoop in, stop the single and throw back to Hafeez for it to be repeated all over again, on loop.
Runs and boundaries were given up only grudgingly. There were direct hits, a run-out and generally the impression that stealing singles within the circle or doubles out to big boundaries was a risk. “It’s going to get better,” Waqar said. “It makes a difference when you are playing against a bigger team and we still need to improve. But definitely today was a much better performance. We took our catches and we stopped boundaries. We did our job so we must give credit to the fielding.”
The batting has more promise than before, though it remains prone to jitters. The surface wasn’t the easiest and Australia’s quicks will test most sides, but Pakistan will take particular delight in their two youngest batsmen taking them home. It is the blend in their batting through the middle that is their strength. There is experience in Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq and freshness in Asad Shafiq and Umar Akmal. Younis and Misbah set up the Sri Lanka win, Shafiq and Umar this one.
Umar’s hand was worthy of the Man-of-the-Match award, for he counterpunched just when Pakistan could have been knocked out, and he finished the game. But Shafiq’s 46, like the unbeaten 78 against Zimbabwe last week, caught the eye for its quiet sense and method, always full of intent but not averse to caution.
Waqar didn’t hold back in his praise. “He’s becoming more and more mature every day, not only this series but even if you go back to the New Zealand series where he played some really good knocks. He’s very steady, not a big hitter, he manoeuvres the ball here and there, picks up the odd boundary. At No. 3, he’s done a superb job in the last match [against Zimbabwe] and he’s done a job today [Saturday] as well.”
It is a big win, “a real achievement,” concluded Waqar. But every win from now will, unavoidably, be bigger. They will enjoy it now, Waqar said, before waiting on the permutations of who they play. They will also have to “forget it.” It’s not often Pakistan have been able to say that of a win against Australia recently, which tells, if you think about it, its own story of what this team has done and could yet do.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo