Vb Final: Australia Go One Up

A timely return to form from Andrew Symonds has helped Australia secure a tense 18-run victory over Pakistan in the first VB Series final to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. After posting a total of 237, lethal spells from Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath ensured Pakistan struggled in their run-chase.

Having failed to make a half-century in any of the earlier games in the series, Symonds’ innings was important both in restoring the confidence of his team and himself. Australia had slumped to 3/53, after Rana, Rao Iftikhar and Khalil each bagged an early wicket apiece. Matthew Hayden was dropped for the match, but Michael Clarke for once did not make astart at the top of the order, shuffling across his stumps to be trapped LBW by Rana on 9. Gilchrist struggled for fluency, making only 24 from his 42 deliveries before falling to a stunning left-handed catch by Razzaq at mid-off. By the time Ponting was bowled by a swinging yorker from Rao, Australia was in desperate need of a big partnership.

The combination of Martyn, recently named Australia’s Test Player of the Year, and Symonds, Australia’s One Day Player of the Year, proved a successful one as the pair took Australia’s total to 100 and beyond. A collision between Rana and Khalil rendered the latter unable to bowl, forcing Inzamam to turn to his allrounders to bowl the bulk of the overs. Symonds in particular was aggressive early on, lofting boundaries over mid-off and driving through the covers. Pakistan responded well however, tying down the two batsmen between overs 30-40, forcing the Australians to lift the run-rate.

Martyn attempted just that against Afridi, but was done in by extra bounce as he charged the legspinner, stumped by Kamran Akmal for a well-made 53 from 78 balls. Darren Lehmann’s stay was as brief as possible, falling to the very next ball trying to play an awkward reverse-sweep, only to be caught by Akmal. Simon Katich was lucky not to be caught behind off Razzaq, but fell soon after to the same bowler, skying a miscued shot to be well caught by Rao. The next ball saw an even more significant blow, as Symonds belted a cover drive in the air, but fell to a sharp catch by skipper Inzamam for 91 from 101 deliveries.

Pakistan’s excellent catching continued in Razzaq’s next over, as Watson flat-batted a delivery to long-on, where Hafeez held on to a sharp chance. Brett Lee added a useful 13 before Rana made a mess of his stumps, and McGrath was the last man out, runout by an intelligent piece of cooperation between Akmal and the bowler Rao. Australia finished with a total of 237, sub-par on this pitch but enough for a strong bowling attack to defend.

As so often in this series, Lee found his speed and his radar immediately, trapping Salman Butt LBW with an inswinger on just his second delivery. McGrath applied the pressure at the other end, dismissing Akmal for only 4, to put Pakistan in a difficult position early at 2/7. It only got worse, as Lee, bowling upwards of 150km/h, skittled the stumps of the in-form Youhana. Hafeez resisted momentarily, but he too was out soon after attempting to pull a quicker delivery from McGrath, skying to Watson on 13. At 4/27, the only positive for Pakistan at that stage was the presence at the crease of their in-form captain.

With the firepower of Razzaq and Afridi capable of chasing virtually any total, Inzamam and Shoaib Malik concentrated their efforts on seeing out the overs. Both Lee and McGrath went for barely two runs per over in their first spells, but the Pakistani batsmen reserved their aggression for the part-timers. Lehmann disappeared for two sixes over mid-on, while Symonds too went for over a run a ball as Pakistan played themselves right back in the game. Inzamam brought up his sixth half-century for the series, but again was unable to go on to bigger things, and was caught at long leg off McGrath for 51. Pakistan needed little over six an over at that stage, and a good innings from Razzaq would have seen them home comfortably, but a suicidal single saw Razzaq runout for only three by the ever-alert Symonds.

Shoaib Malik continued to play impressively, and with Shahid Afridi at the crease, run rate was not really an issue. Malik however got carried away with his success against Gillespie, and eventually skied an attempted boundary to Lehmann, to be out for 66. A blinder from Afridi was Pakistan’s biggest hope, and he tried as much, belting three sixes, including one which Damien Martyn caught, but fell over the rope. It couldn’t last however, as he holed out to square leg on 26, leaving Pakistan’s tail to negotiate the remaining overs. Rana however managed a run-a-ball 29, and Rao 19*, but it was never enough as McGrath successfully prevented Pakistan from gaining the required 25 runs from the last over.

Lee finished with 3-23 from his 10, and McGrath 3-34, to put Australia one-nil up in the best-of-three series. The next match will be held in Sydney.

Score Summary:

AUSTRALIA 237 all out from 49 overs
A Symonds 91 (101), DR Martyn 53 (78); Abdul Razzaq 3-33 (10), Rana Naved-ul-Hasan 2-50 (9), Shahid Afridi 2-50 (10)

PAKISTAN 9/219 from 50 overs
Shoaib Malik 66 (89), Inzamam-ul-Haq 51 (83); B Lee 3-23 (10), GD McGrath 3-34 (10)

Result: Australia won by 18 runs
Series: Australia lead best-of-three series 1-0

Man of the Match: Andrew Symonds, 91 (101)

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