There was silence all around. But there was the elixir of victory for two Australians.
The most incredible T20 run chase in, well, all of 24 hours could be enjoyed by Matthew Wade and Marcus Stoinis as they shared a euphoric embrace. New Zealand had needed 57 from 24 balls against England the day before, and they managed it with an over to spare. With six balls remaining, Australia chased down the 50 they needed from Pakistan’s final four overs.
In some ways, this hunt was even more significant than New Zealand’s. It ended Pakistan’s incredible 16-game T20 victory streak in the United Arab Emirates, which dated back to 2016.
Wade and Stoinis, Australia’s last two specialist batters, defied history by adding 81 runs for the sixth wicket in 6.4 overs. Wade clinched victory with three consecutive sixes off Shaheen Shah Afridi, the tournament’s best fast bowler, including two scoops of stunning audacity.
So all Pakistan’s loud fans could do was focus on the ball before Wade’s sequence, which ended with Hasan Ali dropping him at deep midwicket. With only four wickets in hand, Australia would have needed 20 from nine balls if Hasan had performed a reasonably straightforward catch.
T20 knockout cricket, on the other hand, is beautiful in its violence. The World Cup has been invigorated by classic matches on successive nights after a group stage that simmered rather than sparkled.
There was a loud rebuke to those who still believe T20 is a game without ebb and flow, just as there was in Abu Dhabi. Instead, it was a wildly fluctuating game, with both sides’ fielding displaying awareness of the stakes, a combination of superb batting, fantastic, varied bowling, and fallibility. With the departure of Pakistan, the only team to win all of their group games, no team has yet won the T20 World Cup without losing a match, demonstrating the format’s unpredictability.
Despite this, the game’s protagonists appeared to be all Pakistani for large swaths of the game. With 67, Mohammad Rizwan, who had spent the previous two nights in an intensive care unit before making a remarkable recovery, helped Pakistan to a 176-4 victory. Fakhar Zaman then thrashed 55 off Mitchell Starc’s penultimate over, including two consecutive sixes.
Shadab Khan wrestled the match back in Pakistan’s favour as David Warner threatened to play the game’s dominant hand, hitting the ball straight with great strength. His four overs produced a wicket; the fourth, a reverse sweep to deep cover by Glenn Maxwell, reduced Australia to 96-5.
Australia’s batter-heavy technique was explicitly developed for scenarios like this. Twenty-four hours earlier, England had paid the price for selecting a batter-heavy side; now, it has rescued Australia.
Wade’s selection at number seven appears to be unusual on the surface: he hasn’t batted so low in domestic cricket in five years. While he is ideally suited to start in T20, his preference for attacking pace makes him a good fit for number seven. Wade scored 41 runs off 16 balls against Pakistan’s quicks, but he didn’t get a single run from his one ball against spin. Babar Azam could have used Imad Wasim’s last over to Wade and Stoinis if Hasan wasn’t at his best.
Rather than a championship to celebrate, the dejected Pakistan fans who walked out of the Dubai International Cricket Stadium could only cling to the triumph of their voyage. From the enthusiasm of their first triumph against India – marked by spectators proudly wearing t-shirts saying ‘152-0,’ Pakistan’s score as they sealed their 10-wicket win – their tournament has been a raucous good time. Pakistan’s regrets will linger for a long time, given how well-suited they are to the conditions in the UAE — the team is far less well-equipped for the challenge in Australia.