There is a popular saying which goes like “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”
For the uninitiated, it is a popular opera term that took over football and footballing chants. It just means it ain’t over unless the final whistle goes loud and clear. But we are not talking about football, are we?
This is cricket, the cricketing equivalent for the same: It isn’t over till the Australian team sings.
Aaron Finch’s side were not favourites, no one really gave them any chance, no one barring my great colleague Hardik Worah. Maybe, he believed in Australia more than several Australian fans, it seemed that way to me, at least.
When Matthew Hayden and Vernon Philander took over Pakistan cricket at the last minute, the consensus was that Babar Azam’s side will definitely challenge teams but won’t run past them with ease. Five wins out of five games, Pakistan convincingly swept past top favourites, yet they stood there, staring the mighty side in Australia.
It wasn’t Halloween night, it wasn’t even the same damn month, we are almost two weeks past that dreaded costume nights. But somehow in Dubai, the spookiness in the air was alien for Australia, several thousand fans were behind Pakistan, it was obvious, it was Pakistan’s own den, it was vociferous.
But this is Australia, this is what they do for a living: it is their bread and goddamn butter man. They soak pressure like a sponge soaks water, maybe even better than that green thing we get for a few cents. No one gave Australia a chance and yet no one wanted to really face them. Wait a minute, what are we blabbering about?
Australia, in the first innings, were far away from aggressive, brutal and other words that you would associate with them. They were timid, lacklustre, scared and almost surrendered to Pakistan’s soaking-pressure cricket. Under Hayden’s tutelage, the Asian side were more Australian than the Men in Gold, who flew down from Oceania.
In Dubai, there was Spiderman, there were Pakistan fans dressed in all sorts of costume, but the ultimate winner of the cosplay was Riz-man. Ahead of the clash, he wasn’t even a surety of playing the fixture, with the Pakistan opener still in the hospital admitted after suffering from a bronchitis condition.
Prayers of nearly several million Pakistan fans were that the opener would be fit in time, to face Australia. Oh boy, wasn’t he fit and raring to go? His 52-ball 67 gave Pakistan the stability as Fakhar Zaman went ballistic from the other end, with a 32-ball 55*. With 176 onboard, the Asian side were favourites and there are no two parts about that. Even if you were Hardik Worah!
Wait, we said it was long past Halloween, right?
That’s where you got to stop us and say nothing more than Shaheen Afridi. Wait till the end to find out why Halloween is the most ‘fitting’ word to describe the entire second innings. Like Halloween, it had a sense of familiarity to it, Finch getting himself tangled in front of the stumps, David Warner smacking the ball and Afridi striking off his first over.
It was like a book that people had read several times, it was cliched, it had elements that by now you were aware of and yet we all decided to hang on. That’s where it gets interesting. That’s possibly where we were all wrong. Not WROGN but WRONG!
Warner and Mitchell Marsh said hi, they smacked a few deliveries here and there, putting Australia on the ascendancy. It shouldn’t be shocking, unless you have watched Australian cricket in the last two years, or unless you got Sunrisers Hyderabad merch on. The southpaw rolled back the years, rolled down his curtains, drank a few cans of Red Bull as he raced away with his swanky four-wheeled vehicle.
In the most vintage Warner of fashion, he didn’t let Imad Wasim settle, he gave a few warning signs to Shadab Khan and really handed a lesson to Professor of Pakistan cricket, Mohammad Hafeez. Blood was all over his hand, he was eyeing something that wasn’t visible to anyone else, he was spirited, maybe even infected by a few zombies from the Zombieland.
Combined with Marsh, they went about hunting the bowlers, for fun. But Shadab Khan was that sheriff, that guy in the movies who has an antidote for all the zombies. In just four overs, he turned the game around, with four wickets – Marsh, Steve Smith, David Warner and Maxwell – in that order. He showed why he has the most wickets in the middle overs (7-15), with 59 wickets.
When he dismissed Warner and Maxwell, in the span of four deliveries, Australia’s hopes were up in the air. The air in Dubai somehow was filled with party and the Pakistan fans, were erupting, in joy and ecstasy. The decibel was defining, in simple terms. Some even started the mock chants and then, there were others, who reminded everyone of Michael Hussey.
The same Hussey, who smacked Pakistan’s golden boy, Saeed Ajmal, for 23 runs, 23 runs that still haunts several Pakistan fans. Matthew Wade, in the eeriest of fashion, began on a similar note, taking the singles, not taking the risk, letting his partner, Marcus Stoinis do the tonking.
If it was Cameron White on that night in Gros Islet, it was Stoinis in Dubai, doing all the dirty work. In the 17th over of the innings, against Haris Rauf, Stoinis took off, like how White took on Hafeez and Shahid Afridi. He went whack but yet, deep inside, Australia were aware of what happens when Stoinis goes berserk, they end up on the losing side, more often than not.
But in Dubai on a dreamy Thursday night, it was all different, the air was spooky but for Pakistan fans. Hasan Ali’s over, where he gave 12 runs served as a catalyst. With only pacers to bowl at the death, Australia sensed an outside chance, a sniff at something that looked totally impossible. And when Wade got 15 runs off the all-rounder’s 18th over, it brought Australia back in the encounter, hell, made them favourites.
The topsy-turvy of Criclytics’ percentage suddenly showed a shimmer of hopes for Australia but there stood Shaheen Afridi. Afridi vs the rest of the world; Afridi vs Stoinis-Wade, not quite the same ring to it.
When Hasan dropped Wade, the Halloween night returned.
Six, six, four, six struck Mike Hussey on that famous evening against Saeed Ajmal. An uncanny resemblance was in play here in Dubai on Thursday. Another southpaw, Wade, struck six, six and six against Pakistan’s best bowler in the tournament, to signal the exit for the Asian side. On that night, Australia scored 75 runs in the last five overs, here on Thursday, they scored 62 runs.
And in both instances, they started as favourites, they had more than a good total and it was their best bowler of the tournament, on the wrong end of the result. Who said T20 cricket isn’t about luck and timing? Who said T20 isn’t cruel?
If there is a fitting festive period that could be associated with T20 cricket: Halloween has to be that spooky festival. Unless you are Hardik Worah!