Oz`s 34-match unbeaten run is finally snapped

Colombo: It took 12 years and 35 games but a World Cup opponent finally found a way to beat Australia on Saturday as their proud unbeaten run in the sport`s showpiece tournament was finally snapped by Pakistan.

Way back in 1999 in England, it was against the same opponents that Australia had lost their last match in a World Cup before they embarked on their glorious journey of winning the next three titles consecutively.

It was an uncharacteristic batting collapse for the four-times world champions as they were shot out for a meagre 176 -- their lowest World Cup total since 1992 -- with speedster Umar Gul being the wrecker-in-chief.

"We certainly had a tough game today. We didn`t do ourselves any favours. I thought our batting effort was particularly ordinary," Ponting, who suffered his first World Cup defeat as captain, summed up tersely.

Ponting`s men, who had already qualified for the quarter-finals, struggled for momentum throughout their innings after opting to bat first.

Pakistan`s pace and spin attack, backed up by sharp fielding, never allowed the Australian batting to settle.

A 63-run second wicket stand between Brad Haddin (42) and Ponting (19), who failed once again with the bat, was the only notable partnership in the Australian innings.

Nervous Batting

At the halfway stage, Pakistan had won more than half the battle already.

It just needed the 1992 champions Pakistan to keep their heads from there to chase down the runs but they managed somehow to keep the match at least competitive with some nervous batting.

Brett Lee single-handedly tried to maintain Australia`s unbeaten run with some inspired spells during which he picked up four wickets, but got little support from his fast-bowling colleagues.

Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson were off colour and largely off target and Australia do not have a spinner in the current campaign who can run through a middle order on his own as Shane Warne once did.

The dismissal of Younus Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq off consecutive Lee deliveries and Shahid Afridi`s irresponsible shot to throw away his wicket spiced up things a bit but Australia never had enough runs on the board to threaten a serious comeback.
"Don`t ask. Don`t ask, It was an irresponsible shot as a captain at a stage like that," an embarrassed Afridi said when quizzed about his dismissal with five wickets still in hand and only 35 to win.

In the end, it was left to Asad Shafiq (46) and 20-year-old Umar Akmal (44 not out) who kept their heads long enough to see Pakistan through to victory and replace Sri Lanka at the top of Group A.

Ponting`s team, meanwhile, dropped to third place in the group and now face India or West Indies in the quarter-final.

Australia`s loss on Saturday meant that all teams in the tournament have now lost at least one match heading into next week`s quarter-finals.

The era of total Australian domination is over. Who can replace them as champions -- if anyone - is still very much up for grabs.

Bureau Report

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