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WE ♥ WATTO

Recalled allrounder leads us into semis

- RICHARD EARLE CRICKET WRITER

AUSTRALIA is two wins from an historic, fifth World Cup triumph and first on home soil after Shane Watson escaped the clutches of gallant Pakistan at Adelaide Oval last night.

Having survived the World Cup’s most fearsome spell of fast bowling by Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz, (2/54) Watson (64) who was dropped from the team just two weeks ago, steered Australia home. Australia, 4/216, reached the 214 target with 97 balls left.

“Credit to Watto the way he hung in there. That’s as good a spell as I have faced in one-day cricket for a long time,” said Australian skipper Michael Clarke.

Australia now faces World champion India at the SCG semi-final on Thursday.

AUSTRALIA weathered a firestorm from Pakistan to keep its World Cup campaign alive, with Shane Watson the unlikely hero on a dramatic night at Adelaide Oval.

Perceived by his band of critics as a flake, Watson showcased the warrior within to dig Australia out of perilous trouble and hit the emotion-charged winning runs to book the host nation’s place in Thursday’s blockbuste­r semi-final against India at the SCG.

Watson, axed by selectors seemingly for good earlier this tournament, produced one of the defining innings’ of his career, with his unbeaten 64 off 66 the backbone of an actionpack­ed six-wicket victory, which also starred Steve Smith (65) and Glenn Maxwell (44 not out off 29).

And Watson did so in the face of one of the most intimidato­ry spells of fast bowling since Mitchell Johnson last summer tore the heart out of England in the Ashes.

Pakistan quick Wahab Riaz worked himself into a frenzy after cracking the game wide open by marching Australian captain Michael Clarke in the 11th over to leave the hosts reeling at 3/59 in pursuit of a meagre 214 for victory.

Wahab, fuming after being taunted by Mitchell Starc earlier while batting, ripped in a vicious bouncer first up to Watson. In extraordin­ary scenes, Wahab then sprinted down the wicket, got right in Watson’s grill and clapped sarcastica­lly.

With every searing bouncer he delivered in the intense five-over period, Wahab repeated the dose, sarcastica­lly clapping, smiling and even blowing kisses to an undersiege Watson who had no idea how to play the fire-breathing left-armer.

Smirking earlier in the field when Starc advised Wahab he should be trying to hit “the little white thing”, the sledgehapp­y Watson didn’t have anything to say anymore.

He should have been out for 6 and Australia 4/84 when he skied Wahab to the fence, only for Rahat Ali to drop a sitter that will go down in World Cup history as a tournament­altering turning point.

One former Australian captain might have quipped; “you just dropped the World Cup son”, but Watson wasn’t saying anything – he was already making his way to the pavilion when he realised he’d been given a life.

It wasn’t pretty, but Watson survived. Something he’s failed to do on too many occasions in the past – like against New Zealand in Auckland earlier this tournament where the righthande­r’s lazy shot sparked a crippling collapse of 8/26.

Making the most of an unexpected second chance symbolised the story of Watson’s World Cup. Still confused over why he was punted in Perth not to return, only to be recalled four days later in Sydney, there was no secondgues­sing what his job was last night when Wahab was finally taken out of the attack in the 21st over.

Watson didn’t relax his focus, but sensed it was Australia’s turn to apply the heat and quickly lifted another gear from his stuttering 13 off 27 balls to smash seven fours and one six.

A veteran of three World Cups, Watson has a proven record of stepping up in the showcase tournament, and when it’s mattered most, that class has come to the fore.

Shifted down to No.5 due to his struggles at No.3, Watson might as well have been play- ing first drop last night after Aaron Finch’s (2) form slide continued and David Warner (24) threw his wicket away.

Watson grafted out a crucial 89-run partnershi­p with Smith, before Australia’s new No.3 finally departed lbw. Glenn Maxwell came to the crease and peeled off another memorable partnershi­p (68 unbeaten) with Watson to get Australia home. Although not before the Big Show was also dropped off Wahab’s bowling, a wicket which would have made it five down for 154 if it had stuck.

Earlier, Josh Hazlewood cemented his place in the Australian fast bowling attack in emphatic style, taking 4/35 off his 10 overs after being called in at the expense of Pat Cummins.

 ?? Picture: SARAH REED ?? WE DID IT: Shane Watson celebrates with Glenn Maxwell after hitting the winning runs against Pakistan last night.
Picture: SARAH REED WE DID IT: Shane Watson celebrates with Glenn Maxwell after hitting the winning runs against Pakistan last night.
 ?? Picture: PHIL HILLYARD ?? OOPS: Pakistan's Rahit Ali drops Shane Watson off Pakistan's Wahab Riaz during the World Cup Quarter Final at Adelaide Oval last night.
Picture: PHIL HILLYARD OOPS: Pakistan's Rahit Ali drops Shane Watson off Pakistan's Wahab Riaz during the World Cup Quarter Final at Adelaide Oval last night.
 ?? Picture: AFP ?? WAR OF WORDS: Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz gets in Shane Watson’s face during the World Cup quarter-final at Adelaide Oval last night.
Picture: AFP WAR OF WORDS: Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz gets in Shane Watson’s face during the World Cup quarter-final at Adelaide Oval last night.

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