At the trophy unveiling on Tuesday, Aaron Finch and Sarfraz Ahmed stood together, posing for the pre-series picture with the silverware the two teams would fight for. That it was called the TUC Cup for sponsorship reasons was unsurprising in today’s age, but when you looked closely, you saw the Cup was rather aptly named. Perched on top of a set of three stumps and a cricket ball was a monstrously large TUC biscuit.
That word is used advisedly. The trophy might have looked horrendous if it wasn’t comical. It was hardly a prize worth fighting for.
And so, on Wednesday, as Pakistan took on Australia in the first T20I, the visitors seemed to simply not fight for it. If they didn’t want to take that trophy home, the way the top and middle order batted went a long way towards ensuring they wouldn’t have to. Pakistan bowled well – of course, they did; they’re the No. 1 T20I side. But Australia seemed to be lining up to give their wickets away with a slew of shocking shots to collapse to 22 for 6, chasing 156. It was a minor miracle they lost by only 66 runs, making it to 89 before being bowled out in 16.5 overs.
Imad Wasim, playing his first international match in almost a year, bowled an impressive first over. But it wasn’t like Finch and D’Arcy Short made it hard for him. The third ball, Finch stepped towards leg stump to make room to a ball that kept drifting in, his ungainly slash missing it as it clattered into middle stump. Three balls later, Short got his feet stuck in the crease and was bowled for 4.
Faheem Ashraf at the other end was suffocatingly tight as well, and Glenn Maxwell soon ran out of patience. Attempting to launch the ball out of the ground, he swung at thin air, while the ball rocked the middle stump again. The self-destruction continued from Finch’s men when Ben McDermott set off for a crazy run after punching to mid-off. Fakhar effected a direct hit, and Australia’s chances were all but over.
Things were so different just half an hour before. Australia had even come into the innings with momentum on their side after inflicting a startling collapse: Pakistan went from 105 for 1 to 133 for 8. Hussain Talat, Faheem Ashraf, Sarfraz Ahmed, Shadab Khan, and Imad were all dismissed inside two overs for the addition of three runs.
In what was a staccato batting performance by Pakistan, they had much to thank Babar Azam for. His relentless hunger for accumulation shows no signs of satiating, at least in the limited-overs game. At 57.85, he averages nine points more than the man with the second highest T20I average – Virat Kohli (minimum 20 innings). He batted through the innings, leading Pakistan’s charge for the first 15 overs, and looking in his own element as he did so. Along with an old hand in Mohammad Hafeez, he kept Australia under the pump during the middle overs. Much of the work the pair did help cushion the blow of the collapse that came towards the end, and even as the madness unfolded at the other end, Babar, a picture of clarity, was there to steer Pakistan to a total they were comfortable defending.
Nathan Coulter-Nile struck a few late blows to take Australia out of humiliating into a merely embarrassing territory, ensuring too many records didn’t tumble as swiftly as the top order had. Pakistan is too good for most teams in this format these days, but the visitors’ ineptitude perhaps defined this game.