Not since the days of a young Wasim Akram and a befuddled Allan Border had Pakistan beaten Australia at the MCG, in a match played as part of the one-off World Championship of Cricket. And not since January 2005 had Pakistan beaten Australia in Australia, in any format.
Pakistan ended both those dry spells in a contest that illustrated familiar strengths for the visitors and plenty of increasingly tiresome weaknesses among the hosts. On a sluggish surface Australia’s batsmen were cornered by Pakistan’s spinners, allowing for a chase within the modest reach of their batsmen.
Earlier in the day Australia had unveiled their touring party for a Test series in India next month, with the spin bowler Mitchell Swepson speaking outside the MCG. About the same time on the other side of the gates, eight members of the same squad were demonstrating why Swepson and his counterparts may not often have many runs to defend.
Imad Wasim, Shoaib Malik and stand-in captain Mohammad Hafeez combined to expose Australia’s familiar troubles against spin. While the pitch did not take much in the way of turn, its variable pace was expertly utilised to prevent the home team batsmen from finding rhythm.
Captain Steven Smith got closest with 60, but even he was forced to play well within himself. Matthew Wade made another useful contribution, but he was bowled, playing outside a straight delivery in a fashion eerily similar to so many Australian dismissals on the Test tour of Sri Lanka last year.
Left to chase a mere 221, Hafeez led the way with 72 and found useful support from Malik to guide the visitors home. Importantly, the Australians were denied the opportunity to use their own spinners, as Hafeez took 10 (after a single from his opening partner Sharjeel Khan) from Travis Head’s first over, duly persuading Smith to rely almost totally on seam bowlers for the rest of the night. Glenn Maxwell, chosen for his allround skills for India, is yet to bowl a ball this series.
Australia were forced to shuffle around the batting order by the omission of Chris Lynn due to an apparent neck injury, and neither Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Marsh nor Head were able to prosper in their new positions. Junaid Khan also bowled neatly for the visitors in his first ODI in over one-and-a-half years.
It had been Junaid who made his presence felt early. He procured an edge from the bat of David Warner, which sent Australia’s vice-captain back for his second low score of the series. Then, he coaxed Khawaja to cut a ball too close to him, resulting in a fine low catch by Sharjeel Khan at slip.
Next over, the promoted Marsh threw hard hands playing his first ball, against Mohammad Amir, and offered up a catch to cover point, leaving Smith and Head with a considerable salvage job. Head was fluent for the second time in as many innings, but was again unable to capitalise on his start, a fate that also befell Glenn Maxwell when he sallied forth to Imad and was bowled off his pads.
Wade and Smith then put together the most substantial stand of the innings, and it appeared to have given the hosts a chance of posting a similar tally to their Brisbane effort. However, Smith was somewhat unfortunately bowled off the inside edge and body when he tried to attack the persistent Imad, signalling another twist in the innings.
The remaining overs were decidedly underwhelming for Australia, even if Pat Cummins escaped a caught behind first ball via a clear outside edge that escaped the attention of umpire Chris Gaffaney. Pakistan were duly left with a chase that would appear within their reach, so long as the batsmen can improve after the fashion of the bowlers.
In order to defend the total successfully, the Australians needed early wickets, and fourth ball of the innings Hafeez edged an attempt to drive Mitchell Starc. The ball arrowed straight into the lap of Smith, but burst through his hands; the pain of the missed chance was compounded by the sensitive region the ball struck.
From there the visitors built a diligent chase around Hafeez’s spinal innings, never pressured by the run rate and so able to defuse some challenging spells from Starc and Pat Cummins in particular. Malik’s skills in modulating a chase were useful towards the finish, and after he evaded a caught behind appeal by Cummins, the Pakistani supporters among a crowd of 31,390 were able to toast a drought-breaker – and a series-squarer.