Pakistan 187 for 4 (Fakhar 91, Shoaib Malik 43*) beat Australia 183 for 8 (Short 76, Finch 47, Amir 3-33) by six wickets
It’s been a curious week to schedule a T20I tri-series. What with the Wimbledon Championships kicking off and the World Cup approaching its enthralling climax, this T20 tri-series in Harare (which, as far as we can tell, doesn’t really have a name) was never destined to be the highlight of July’s sporting calendar. Having said that, it would have been hard to pick a week all calendar year where this particular series would take centrestage.
But the series did provide something some of the world’s biggest competitions fail to do. It provided a final to grace the occasion. With the host nation knocked out and a small crowd watching on, Pakistan clinched their ninth successive T20I series win with a flawed, yet dogged performance. Both sides produced more mistakes than moments of genuine quality, Australia had it in the bag and blew it, and Fakhar Zaman, a year on from his Champions Trophy final-winning knock, smashed 91 off 46 balls to help Pakistan complete their highest successful T20I chase.
Unlike the Champions Trophy, however, there was no helpful opening partner to play alongside Fakhar as the left-hander caught fire. Pakistan began the daunting chase in the worst possible manner anyway, losing two wickets in the opening over – to Glenn Maxwell, of all people. Sahibzada Farhan, much vaunted thanks to an impressive domestic record, made 0 off 0 on debut, stumped off a wide. Hussain Talat also departed for a duck, leaving Pakistan 2 for 2 after just four balls.
Sarfraz Ahmed came in and played a brilliant, characteristically street-smart cameo, and in the early stages it appeared he would be the one to guide Pakistan to what then looked an unlikely target. He combined with Fakhar to hound Maxwell out of the attack, the pair taking 22 runs off his second over, sending out the message that this wouldn’t be another Pakistan batting implosion.
But having made 28 off 18, and just when the partnership was settling into a rhythm, Sarfraz committed the biggest unforced error of a match littered with them. Having paddled Andrew Tye to fine leg, he set off for a third run rendered impossible by his sluggish approach while running the first two, and a fine throw to the bowler’s end caught him well out, leaving Pakistan back in the mire he had spent 20 minutes digging them out of.
But Shoaib Malik, possibly the most consistent T20I batsman of the last two years, joined Fakhar at the crease, and the pair began to chip away at the target. The tipping point seemed to come in the 11th over, in which Jack Wildermuth, somewhat obsessed with the extreme off-side field he had set Fakhar, bowled four wides, and went for 16 in all. That over appeared to distract the fielding side from all the good work they had done, and began a passage of play in which Pakistan plundered 48 in three overs as Fakhar turned into the beast he always seems one shot away from becoming.
That point onward, there was no safe area to bowl to him, with Ashton Agar, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis and Andrew Tye all copping severe punishment. Shoaib’s steady, pragmatic companionship was barely noticed, but the 107-run partnership, strung together when Pakistan looked like they might even be bowled out, blasted them towards a target Australia will feel they had no business getting near.
Australia chose to bat first, going against the trend that has dominated this series. It appeared to be paying off early on, but Aaron Finch’s side was massively helped by a Pakistan fielding performance that seemed to have teleported them back to pre-Mickey Arthur days. Finch was dropped off the first ball of his innings, by Shoaib Malik, and the ground fielding was lacklustre, misfields often allowing the batsmen to run twos when they were never on.
D’Arcy Short, who returned to Australia’s XI in place of Nick Maddinson, and Finch put on 95 for the first wicket in 9.5 overs, with Mohammad Amir, the only bowler who had managed to hold the Australians down, curiously underutilised in the first half of the innings. teenage fast bowler Shaheen Afridi and Shadab Khan were both hugely expensive, their first overs going for 14 and 13 respectively.
Pakistan did manage to pull things back with wickets in the middle overs, and Australia’s Achilles heel – their middle order – was again shown up. None of the batsman bar the top two got to 20. When Amir returned in the death overs, he was a class above the batsmen Australia were counting on to propel them towards 200. Four wickets fell for 26 runs in their last three overs as the innings spluttered and stalled, and they ended up with 183 when 200 had seemed possible at one stage.