Ahead of the second T20I between Australia and Pakistan at Manuka Oval, Canberra on Tuesday, the visitors had won 75% of their T20I matches when they had won the toss and batted first since the 2016 World T20. That number didn’t matter this time around though as the hosts romped home to a comfortable seven-wicket victory.
The architect of the Australian victory was Steve Smith, the batsman who has designed numerous victories across formats for his side in recent years. After the World T20 in 2016, Smith had been rested from T20Is to concentrate on the longer formats but with the next world edition less than a year away, he had to play now.
While he notched up an unbeaten half-century against Sri Lanka last week, the knock here was a class above as he guided Australia to chase down a target of 151. For the first time this year, David Warner was dismissed in a T20I innings which brought Smith to the crease at the end of the third over.
From there on, it was a masterclass from the former Aussie captain as he struck some magnificent shots all around the ground to score an unbeaten 80 from just 51 balls. In fact, he hit 12 boundaries during this knock, the most he has managed in any T20I.
The highlight of his innings came in the 17th over of the chase when the match was in the balance with Australia needing 28 runs to win from 21 deliveries and Ashton Turner struggling on six from 11 deliveries at the time. It was Mohammad Amir with the ball and Smith would play three gorgeous shots on the off-side to, more or less, clinch the match for Australia.
Warner (20), Aaron Finch (17) and Ben McDermott (21) all got starts but couldn’t capitalise. Warner was bowled by Amir and Finch fell to a left-arm pacer – Mohammad Irfan in this instance – for just the second time in his T20I career. McDermott, on the other hand, had reviewed a leg-before decision, but with no bat involved and ball-tracking not available, he had to walk back (it must be said though that to the naked eye, it did look out).
Earlier, Australian pacer Mitchell Starc failed to pick a wicket in his first over in a T20I after doing so in three successive matches before today. Despite seeing off Starc’s early threat, Fakhar Zaman failed to get going once going as he was dismissed for two. The left-hander’s form is a real area of concern for Pakistan as he averages just 9.17 and has a strike rate of 106.8 in his last 12 T20I innings.
At the other end, Babar Azam was in supreme touch once again. The Pakistan skipper announced his intent early on with two glorious boundaries at the start of the second over which was bowled by Kane Richardson. He followed that with two more fours off the next over against Starc and it was clear that he was in pristine form.
Babar went on to score his 12th T20I half-century. In fact, no batsman has scored as many or more 50+ scores in the format at the international level since the 2016 World T20. But when coming back for the second run after completing his fifty, Babar was caught short at the striker’s end by a brilliant direct hit from Warner who was running in from deep mid-wicket.
Babar was not the only Pakistan batsman to shine on the day as Iftikhar Ahmed raced his way to a first T20I century with some delightful attacking batting. Iftikhar was especially severe against Australian pacers, scoring at a strike rate of 212.5 against the quicker bowlers which included four fours and three sixes.
In the end, the right-handed batsman remained unbeaten on 62 from 34 deliveries, helping Pakistan finish their innings on 150/6. The score though was far from enough as Australia eased to their first T20I win against Pakistan in seven matches.
For Australia, Ashton Agar was the pick of the bowlers, securing two wickets and conceding just 23 runs in his four overs.
With the series score reading 1-0 to the hosts after the first two T20Is, the action will now move to Perth where Australia will look to affirm their dominance so far by sealing the series while Pakistan still have a chance to level things up if they put in a much-improved performance.