The contest today was always going to be between the Australian batsman and the Pakistani bowlers. When Misbah won the toss, the Pakistani bowlers would have hoped and prayed that the batsman gave them something to play with-some runs to defend. The batsman all got starts and threw it away. Pakistan got 213. The general opinion was that this was not enough. However there was one man in the Pakistan camp who believed that it was enough. Wahab Riaz.
Wahab Riaz is no Wasim Akram. He is not even a Mitchell Johnson or a Mitchell Starc. But he is a fast bowler with a big heart. Picture this- Mohali 2011. World Cup Semi Final. India v Pakistan. Sehwag has started like a bullet train smashing 38 in 25 balls. Pakistan seems to be wilting- Gul has lost his bearings. Pakistan needs a man with a big heart. Up steps Wahab Riaz. He dismisses Sehwag. He gets rid of Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Zaheer Khan. He gets 5/46. He hopes his team mates do their bit of the plan. They don’t. India wins by 29 runs. India is jubilant. Pakistan is despondent.
Wahab Riaz has taken five but nobody cares about him. That is the tragedy of Wahab Riaz.
Today Wahab Riaz was introduced in the 8th over. Australia was 44/1 and coasting towards their target. Australia eventually won but not before Wahab Riaz had bowled the most outstanding spell of fast aggressive bowling this tournament has seen. He was fast- very fast- accurate and hostile. He was the lone warrior trying to win the battle for his team. He got Warner in his first over and then he was a man possessed. Fortunately Misbah realized that it was Wahab who would win or lose the match for Pakistan. He perhaps told his warrior to lead the charge and win the battle.
Michael Clarke was welcomed by Wahab by a shortleg and two bouncers clocked at 145 km/hr. He played those awkwardly and survived for 5 deliveries bowled by Wahab but on the 6th Wahab forced him to fend straight at shortleg. Wahab let out a war cry. Perhaps he wanted to tell the Australians that the battle had started. In walked Shane Watson.
First ball to Watson by Wahab was a quick bouncer, bowled perhaps to wake Watson up. Watson fended that awkwardly. Next ball was clocked at 150 km/hr. Watson tried to play and then swayed away. It was too quick for him. A glare followed. The bouncer barrage continued. Runs flowed easily from the other end but Wahab Riaz did not care. He wanted to win this game on his own. Last ball of the 13th over was another fast short ripper. How Watson managed to evade that only he knows. Drinks were taken and then the pivotal moment of the game arrived.
First delivery of the 17th over. Another fast bouncer. Watson had enough. He tried to hook and got a top edge. Fine leg under it. If this catch is taken, Pakistan is on its way to a famous win. If this catch is taken, Wahab Riaz is on his way to cricketing folklore. If this catch is taken it would be the culmination of a tremendous piece of fast bowling along with a brilliant plan. Except that the catch is not taken. Rahat Ali drops it. He drops the world cup for Pakistan. He shatters Wahab Riaz’s dreams. Wahab yells in frustration.
But Wahab did not give up. Bouncer after bouncer was bowled to Watson. Watson fended. Watson ducked and Watson survived. When he was called later in the game for a second spell, Wahab bowled another hostile over. Steven Smith had been dismissed. The ‘big show ‘Glenn Maxwell was at the crease. Wahab bowled a bouncer; Maxwell did not know what do to do. Wahab made Maxwell look like a schoolboy. The ball hit the bat and flew to thirdman. Sohail Khan dropped it. One wanted to rush on the ground and give Wahab Riaz a big hug. Then turn around and yell at all the Pakistani fielders. What were they doing? One of the greatest spell of fast bowling was supported by one of the worst fielding efforts seen in this tournament.
Watson displayed a lot of quality too. He survived that torrid spell by Wahab .Wahab made him look like a tail ender but he survived. Once Wahab was rested, he opened out. Out came the Shane Watson strokes. The cover drive, the flick and the front foot pull were all seen.
But Shane Watson most importantly showed character and heart. Wahab Riaz bowled the most wonderful spell but Shane Watson survived that and then took Australia to victory .That required a lot of luck, skill and extraordinary class. Watson showed that when the going got tough, he could stand up and be counted.
Australia go to Sydney where a different battle in the form of India awaits them. Wahab Riaz goes back home wondering what the story would have been if all the catches would have been taken. Twice in two world cups Wahab has produced match winning performances and yet been on the losing end only because his team mates have not been good enough to take advantage of those performances.
That is the tragedy of Wahab Riaz.