Steven Smith's masterclass gives Australia series lead
Australia 3 for 151 (Smith 80*) beat Pakistan 6 for 150 (Ahmed 52*, Azam 50) by seven wickets
It didn't take long for Steven Smith to clamp down on any whispers he might be surplus to the requirements of the Australian T20I side. A commanding half-century that combined pugnacity and poise in exactly the right doses steered Australia to what ended up being a stroll of a chase against Pakistan with victory by seven wickets. It needn't have been as easy as that, though, and didn't look nearly as comfortable when they lost David Warner and Aaron Finch inside the powerplay, more than a hundred runs still to get without the comfort blanket of an explosive Glenn Maxwell in the middle order.
It was an innings every bit as modern as T20 cricket requires of its players, but the 51-ball 80 Smith struck contained shots that wouldn't have been out of place at this year's Ashes. Eleven fours and a six, exactly a half-century of them, came in boundaries, and by the final two overs, Smith was properly peaking. You almost wished Pakistan, who had done quite well at the end of the first innings to post 150, had put up something more challenging than that, if only to watch a little bit more of the game's hottest player operating at his best.
He was helped by the belligerence of Australia's openers, making their intentions plain as early as the second over. Warner took apart Imad Wasim, normally so reliably economical in the powerplay, finding four fours in what seemed like all four corners of the ground to get Australia off to a flyer, before his run of unbeaten scores was ended by Mohammad Amir. Their dismissals within three overs of each other was, in truth, the only time in the whole contest where it felt Pakistan were within a punter's chance of making a game of it in Canberra's first T20I, but having added 48 in the powerplay, Smith knew he could take his time to settle in without the asking rate spiralling out of control.
Pakistan's bowling in the phase right after left something to be desired, though, and Smith was given regular opportunities to relieve the pressure, finding four boundaries in the next three overs. That was in stark contrast to the exceptionally frugal efforts of their Australian counterparts, who executed what looked like well thought out plans to each of Pakistan's batsman.
Babar Azam was denied the fuller lengths that allow him to step into those gorgeous cover drives, some of which he unfurled in the early stages before Australia pushed their lengths back, to immaculate success. Haris Sohail was cramped for room with length deliveries that ended with him skying one in the air in a near-replica to the way he was dismissed in Sydney, while an improved Adam Zampa meant Pakistan didn't have the release in the middle overs so vital to pushing their score up to 170, close to which appeared par on a cracker of a batting surface.
The top order, once more, left Azam on his own to fend off the Australia attack. Fakhar Zaman's tortured existence at the crease lasted seven balls before driving a catch straight to mid-off, while Mohammad Rizwan struggled with the exact problem his predecessor was criticised so heavily for. The dot balls mounted at his end, only increasing the pressure on Azam to keep the runs flowing. It wasn't until Iftikhar Ahmed came in at No. 6 that Pakistan took Australia's bowlers to task; until then, the run rate was barely over a run a ball.
Exceptional work in the field saw Azam dismissed for exactly 50, underestimating the strength and accuracy of Warner's throwing arm as he turned for a second, with the throw from deep midwicket smashing into the stumps with the Pakistan captain well short of his ground. It appeared the end for any sort of competitive score, but Ahmed put on a display of brilliant hitting the top order looked utterly incapable of to make his first half-century. Kane Richardson came in for especially heavy punishment in his final over, which leaked 22, as, against all odds, Pakistan posted 150 thanks to Ahmed's 34-ball 62.
Australia had done enough in the first ten to ensure they never required much explosive hitting to get to the target. The odd boundary was all they needed in the second half of their innings, with a player of Smith's class comfortably capable of providing that. When he wasn't playing unseemly, albeit mightily effective, ramp shots and tennis forehands, he was piercing gaps in the offside that barely seemed to exist.
A tight 16th over from a much improved Shadab Khan - Pakistan's best bowler by some distance - was the last time things got slightly hairy for the hosts, with 30 needed off four at that point. Half of those would come in the next over, though, with Smith taking Amir apart while displaying the full array of his capability for good measure. From thereon, Australia would ease home without really getting out of third gear. In truth, that could be said about the entire evening in a somewhat forgettable game, lit up only by the shimmering brilliance of a man fit to play international cricket no matter what the format.