Afghanistan Gives Pakistan a Scare in Asia Cup

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Defending Champions Win By 72 Runs

Lethargic, irresponsible and confused are just some of the adjectives which should be applied to the Pakistani top order’s batting efforts on a flat pitch at Fatullah. 

Although the actual dismissals of all of the first six dismissals varied, the underlying theme was one which showed a lack of responsibility. Sharjeel Khan (25), an opener who has struggled to build on his starts should have seen this as an opportunity to score big, given the nature of the pitch and bowling on show. He bludgeoned a few customary boundaries before trying to take on the men in the deep, holing out to deep midwicket in an act of such carelessness, that it must raise doubts over his place at the top of the order. 

Hafeez came out to the middle and with Hamza Hotak in the middle of a tight spell. The 33-year-old belied his experience – over 200 international games – but he lasted just 16 balls trying to hit consecutive boundaries and instead being caught looking for a big hit off Mirwais Ashraf as the pressure created by the Afghanistan bowlers told on the batsman. The wicket was the beginning of a procession, as Pakistan lost five wickets in 10 overs for the addition of just 40 runs, slumping to 117/6 in the 30th over. 

Ahmed Shehzad looked secure as he registered a half-century, off 74 balls, before trying to smash Shenwari soon after and only succeeding in playing on. Shoaib Maqsood has shared a number of good partnerships with Misbah-ul-Haq and Pakistan badly needed them to rebuild the innings, but in the 24th over, the captain answered the call for a single before the young batsman turned back to leave both batsmen stranded at one end. Misbah was run out without having faced a ball, leaving Pakistan tottering on 89/4. Things got not better in the next few overs, as the Maqsood (13) failed to make amends for the run-out as Shinwari claimed a second wicket and Afridi (6), typically, was out slogging at a ball after misreading the length. The shot was all the more disappointing due to the fact that Dawlat Zadran had been brought back into the attack to target the all-rounder. 

This brought Anwar Ali to the crease to join Umar Akmal and the two batted with the purpose that was so badly lacking in the previous batsmen. They put on 60 runs for the 7th wicket, the highest for Pakistan and when Anwar Ali (21) departed in the 43rd over, things looked far more hopeful for Pakistan although the setting of a good target all hinged on Umar Akmal. He didn’t disappoint, running hard and collecting the odd boundary. Umar Gul at the other end helped out too, smashing Dawlat Zadran for a four and a six before the bowler rattled the timbers with a ball that tailed in.

Umar Akmal was on 73 going into the final two overs, and he moved closer to a century when he collected a six off the first ball of the 49th over bowled by Shapoor Zadran, plonking a length ball over the long-on boundary and followed it up with a four to a slower ball which was a little leg-side. Akmal had moved closer to his century with some big hitting, but still needed 15 off the final over to reach the milestone. He scored 10 off the first three balls of the over, including two fours and refused a single, much to the chagrin of Saeed Ajmal at the other end, but the decision paid off as he hit the penultimate ball of the innings over long-on for six to register only his second ODI century, and his first in almost give years and propelling Pakistan to a respectable Pakistan 248/8 from 50 overs, a score that appeared a long way away when they were tottering on 117/6. 

Afghanistan got off to a strong start as they raced to 17 off the first two overs, with the second over by Anwar Ali costing 11 runs. He was promptly taken out of the attack and Noor Ali Zadran continued to attack, punishing Umar Gul as he collected five boundaries in the first five overs.

Gul however removed his partner in the fifth over, Mohammad Shahzad (9) seemingly unlucky to have been given out caught behind. The decision would have been all the more painful for Afghanistan given Sharjeel Khan was given an extra life in the Pakistan innings. 

Junaid Khan was keeping it tight at the other and the boundaries dried up once spin was introduced into the attack – first Shahid Afridi and then Saeed Ajmal, who removed Noor Ali Zadran in his first over, the 19th of the innings, to leave Afghanistan 65/2 and the required run rate above six. The wicket was a vital on, as Zadran was the set batsman having scored 44 of the 65 runs Afghanistan had on the board at that the point of dismissal. 

It was almost 20 overs before Pakistan struck again, Hafeez, Ajmal and Afridi ensured the Afghanistan batsmen were unable to score boundaries on a regular basis, similar to the Pakistani innings in which he spinners exerted considerable pressure in the middle overs. 

Nawroz Mangal and Asghar Stanikzai put on 74 for thethird wicket, before Shahid Afrid struck in the 37th over as the batsman looked to accelerate with the required run rate climbing to almost 10. Asghar Stanikzai (40 off 91 balls) was the batsmen to go, after the leg-spinner inducing a leading edge with the batsman coming down the wicket and trying to play against the spin. 

This wicket precipitated a collapse for Afghanistan, as the weight of the required run rate led them to take risks and Nawroz Mangal was run out off a wide delivery as Afghanistan lost 8 wickets for 36 runs in 10 overs.

Hafeez bowled Najibullah Zadran (1) and Samiullah Shenwari (14) and removed Shapoor Zadran (1) after he induced a leading edge to Ajmal at point. Umar Gul got one to tail in and trapped Mohammad Nabi (15) lbw, Ajmal bowled Dawlat Zaman and a run out resulted in Afghanistan being bowled out for 176 in 47.2 overs. Pakistan won by 72 runs and claimed the bonus point, which seemed highly unlikely earlier in the day.

Pakistan survived some uncomfortable moments to eventually win the game comfortably. The Afghsanistan team showed great commitment in the field and composure with the ball but were floored by an Umar Akmal onslaught which carried Pakistan to a defendable total on a pitch which offered some assistance to the slow bowlers. 

The spin trio of Hafeez (3/29), Ajmal (2/25) and Afridi (1/31) ensured Pakistan were able to exert the pressure with the ball and with the run rate climbing, the Afghan batsmen struggled to stay up with the required rate. 

Pakistan got out of jail today with some individual brilliance, but will know the top order must come to the party if they are to overcome the challenges they face against India and Bangladesh.

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