Nerveless Imad stars in Pakistan’s win against Afghanistan
In a match, full of drama Pakistan managed to beat Afghanistan in a nail-biting finish at Headingley, Leeds, with only two balls to spare. In the heart-stopping moments, left-handed Imad Wasim was his side’s hero in carving out a superb unbeaten 49 off 54 balls, with threat coming from world-class slow bowlers. Easily the most entertaining game of the 2019 World Cup.
Pakistan 230 - for 7 wickets
Afghanistan 227 - for 9 wickets
Pakistan win by 3 wickets
The upset Afghanistan team was expected and threatening to cause, almost arrived at the expense of Pakistan, who once again seem to succumb to the pressure of a run-chase. A target of 228 was made to look much stiffer as the battle of nerves took its grip on both sides. In the end, a three-wicket win has placed Pakistan 4th in the World Cup points table, ahead of England, who face India tomorrow.
Pakistan has finally got some momentum in the World Cup and now with back-to-back wins against South Africa and New Zealand, have given itself a great chance to win a semi-final spot. Its clash against Afghanistan was a must-win for them. Sarfraz, wary of the potential of its opponents, having tasted a defeat in a World Cup warm-up, was set to be more focused and determined.
Pakistan continues to follow the exact route of its famous and dramatic 1992 World Cup resurgence of L W NR L L W W in first seven matches. Surely it is only a coincidence but Pakistanis, all around the world, are loving it. The sub-continental rivalry, with great passionate noisy support aplenty for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, set it up as an interesting match. It surely lived up to it.
Choosing to bat first, Afghanistan needed to put up a decent total in order to give its strong spin attack to cause an upset. Though it has not recorded a win in seven previous World Cup matches, it has come close to causing an upset against Sri Lanka and India. Its tie against neighbours Pakistan at Headingley, was set to provide fireworks. Pashto language, spoken on both sides of the border in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is a common thread between the two nations and naturally spices up today’s contest.
In one sensational over – 5th of the innings – Afghanistan captain Gulbaden smashed two boundaries of Shaheen Afridi, before perishing, caught behind, following a review by Pakistan. The very next ball, the dependable Hashmatullah Shahidi was caught off a leading edge. The two wickets saw the Pakistan supporters, occupying four fifth of the seats at Headingley, go wild. They did not have to wait for the next wicket for too long when Rahmat Shah too departed.
Afghanistan would have loved to see Asghar Afghan, stay a bit longer. After showing positive intent all the way with 42 off 35 balls and having hit two sixes was bowled by Shadab Khan. He was not the only batsman to throw it away today as its final total of 227-9, in good batting conditions was 20-30 below par. The experienced Najibullah Zadran was the key man to lift his side – 184-6 after 40 overs – to a sizeable total. Joint top-scorer with 42 off 54 balls with six fours, he ensured Afghanistan stayed competitive as the 200 came in 44.3 overs.
Each time Afghanistan tried to up the tempo, Pakistan, particularly Shaheen (4-47), manged to hit back with a wicket to arrest the initiative. Start and stutter was the theme of Afghanistan as seven of their batsmen reached double figures but none could reach the fifty mark.
Chasing targets has never been Pakistan’s strength and the loss of Fakhar Zaman in the first over was a perfect start for Afghanistan. A comfortable 72-run stand for the second wicket gave no clues to what was in store. Off-spinner Mohammad Nabi, first induced a rash stroke from Imam-ul-Haq (36) to be stumped and then bowled Babar Azam (45) around his legs. A much talked about Pakistan wobble, for all to enjoy or endure, depending on which side of the fence you were sitting.
In the middle order both Mohammad Hafeez and Haris Sohail, hung around but were never convincing. Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed’s run out – sixth wicket to fall at 156 in the 39th over – further strengthened Afghanistan grip as Pakistan had a tricky run-chase of 71 runs in the last 10 overs. The lower order trio of Imad, Shadab and Wahab Riaz, unbeaten 15 off 9 balls, finished the job for Pakistan with the whole crowd standing up for Afghanistan side to applaud their resilience and fight back.
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