There are two World Cups coming up. Australia will host the T20 version in just a year, a tournament in which Pakistan will again go in as a serious contender. In 2023, India will host the ODI World Cup – for which work needs to start now
First things first. Thursday's semi-final was a great game, one of the most competitive knockout games Pakistan and Australia have played. A game where momentum swung so often, either side could have won the contest. The crucial difference: Australia won the small battles and Pakistan couldn't.
The win in Dubai sets up the first trans-Tasman final since the 2015 ODI World Cup final, one that Australia won without breaking a sweat. Kane Williamson & Co will remember it well.
A New Zealand-Australia final is not what fans, broadcasters or sponsors would have wanted. But the best teams failing to reach the final is not uncommon in cricket tournaments. In the 2019 and 2015 ODI World Cups, respectively, New Zealand and Australia ended undefeated India's campaigns in the semi-finals too. In fact, in 2015, the Kiwis were undefeated until the final where a Mitchell Starc inswinging snorter of a yorker ended Brandon McCallum blazing run and New Zealand's hopes of winning at the MCG. So, there is a well-established pattern.
There is also another well-established pattern: No matter how down and out they are, Australia know how to win big matches in a tournament. They just do it. Put in that extra effort when most needed. Trusting their skills with their backs against the wall. That mental strength that so many teams - Pakistan included - have tried to copy but just can't. No surprise then that Australia has more silverware than anyone else.
On Thursday, there were many moments Australia were out of the game. They dropped catches, let (an unfit) Rizwan steal singles at will, and missed run outs. Except, Pakistan's dropped catches and missed run outs were far costlier. Australia stayed in the game, hung in there. Josh Hazelwood and Starc went for runs but Glen Maxwell and Adam Zampa kept them in the game. Where Pakistan stumbled, Australia pounced. Pat Cummins bowled his best over of the tournament - just three runs and the prized Asif Ali wicket for a duck in the 19th over was pure gold dust.
A target of 177 was defendable; 180-plus would have been ideal.
And when it comes to batting, no matter how out of form, or who the opponents, Australia are always in the game. They always are. That David Warner went on the offensive was no surprise. He has made a habit of putting Pakistan to the sword upfront, such as the 107 in Taunton in 2019.
Given the challenging target Pakistan posed on Thursday, attacking was the best choice against a strong bowling line-up. Disrupt the spinners, attack Hassan Ali, and use Haris Rauf's pace against him. Trust your skills, take the game deep. Also - another pattern here - someone totally unexpected will rise to the occasion, one that the opponent least expects. Michael Hussey's audacious 24-ball 60 in the 2010 semi-final stunned Pakistan out of the tournament they were expected to win. On Thursday, it was Mathew Wade's turn to remind us all that Australia are never, ever out of a game.
Still, Pakistan have a lot of positives to take away from this tournament.
This was a team with a point to prove. Changed several times, until just the right combination emerged right before deadline, Pakistan were hardly well prepared. There was chaos off the field too. Ramiz "Rambo" Raja took over at the PCB. Soon, Head Coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis resigned, forcing "Rambo" to draft a temporary coaching unit just weeks before the tournament. In addition, Covid-19 and bad weather prevented crucial games in England and the West Indies that would have tested Pakistan's abilities in just the sort of situations they found on Thursday. And then the Kiwis and England walked off their commitments to play in Pakistan, leaving the team and the country angry, disappointed and demoralized. Perfect backdrop to remind the cricketing world about Pakistan's value to global cricket.
On the pitch Thursday was the most consistent Pakistan team in decades. Still a work-in-progress but an identity is emerging, one of flair as well as discipline. Off the pitch, the team won hearts by being humble. There was determination and resolve against India, and magnanimity in visits to the Namibia and Scotland dressing rooms. Mohammad Rizwan redefined determination, grit and honour.
This is a young team but one that is already growing with shared experiences, including thumping India in a World Cup. For nine of them, this was their first T20 World Cup; no doubt at all they will learn from this experience and take Pakistan forward at a steady gallop.
Pakistan's future is in the hands of a core group comprising Babar Azam, Rizwan, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Shahdab Khan. Not surprisingly, it is this group that stood out for Pakistan in this tournament. At 29, Rizwan is the oldest of the four. Around them is another group comprising Fakhar Zaman, Hassan Ali, Imad Wasim, Asif Ali and Haris Rauf. At 32, Imad is the oldest of the five. Potentially, this group can give Pakistan stability for at least another five to six years. The more this group plays together, the more settled it will be.
And as is always the case, there is talent in the wings. Pakistan needs backups to the core group and find ways to develop Haider Ali, Shahnawaz Dahani and others. In fact, if "Rambo" wants to leave a legacy, it must be that he discovered and polished the next Babar Azams and Shaheen Shah Afridis.
There are two World Cups coming up. Australia will host the T20 version in just a year, a tournament in which Pakistan will again go in as a serious contender. In 2023, India will host the ODI World Cup -- for which work needs to start now.