Pakistan survived a scare and held their nerves to beat Afghanistan by one wicket in a thrilling Super Four match to reach the final of the Asia Cup 2022 and knock India out of the tournament at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, here on Wednesday.
After this win, Pakistan will now face Sri Lanka in the final of the Asia Cup. On the other hand, it was curtains for Afghanistan and India – as both teams lost their two consecutive Super Four matches and will now face each other in a dead rubber on Thursday.
After winning toss and opting to bowl first, the likes of Haris Rauf (2/26) while Naseem Shah (1/19), Mohammad Nawaz (1/23), Shadab Khan (1/27), Mohammad Hasnain (1/34) produced a terrific bowling performance and helped Pakistan restrict Afghanistan to 129-6 in 20 overs.
Ibrahim Zadran (35 off 37) was the top-scorer for Afghanistan while Hazratullah Zazai (21 off 17), Rashid Khan (18 off 15), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (17 off 11) were the other main contributors with the bat.
Chasing a small total, Pakistan didn’t have a great start as they lost the wicket of skipper Babar Azam (0) in the second ball of the innings. Fazalhaq Farooqi got the ball swinging back into Babar, who got hurried by the pace and swing and was trapped in front of the wicket.
Fakhar Zaman (5), who came to bat next, also didn’t look comfortable against Mujeeb Ur Rahman and wanted to get off the strike but a solid direct hit by Najibullah sent him back to the pavilion, leaving Pakistan to 18-2 after 3.1 overs. Mohammad Rizwan, who has been in scillitaning form, batted cautiously and along with Iftikhar Ahmed took Pakistan 35/2 at the end of powerplay.
Afghanistan had hopes from their premier spinner Rashid Khan and he didn’t disappoint. Bowling his second over, Rashid trapped Rizwan (20) in front of wickets by a quicker googly to give some hope to his team.
In place of Nawaz who played a match-winning knock against India, Pakistan decided to promote leg-spinner Shadab Khan into the batting order. He along with Iftikhar Ahmed had a job to do as Pakistan were 52/3 at the halfway mark.
Both Shadab and Iftikhar rotated strikes and also hit few boundaries in between to keep Pakistan on course in the run-chase. It was Fareed Ahmad who gave the much-needed breakthrough to Afghanistan by getting rid of Iftikhar (30), to bring his side back into the game.
Rashid got into the act again and this time he dismissed Shadab, who was promoted up the order and looked so good during his 36 off 26. Asif Ali – the next batter then hit a six first ball to give impetus to his side.
From there on, eyes were on Mohammad Nawaz (4) and Khushdil Shah (1) to finish it for Pakistan but they failed to deliver as Afghanistan seemed to be cruising to a win. The wicket of Asif Ali (16) in the penultimate over appeared to be the final nail in the coffin as Pakistan needed 12 runs off 7 balls from thereon.
Eventually, Pakistan needed 11 runs in 6 balls to win and Fazalhaq Farooqi, Afghanistan’s most impressive bowler of the night before the start of the last over, crumbled under pressure. Naseem Shah found the sweet spot on his bat twice, hitting back to back sixes off the first two balls and leading Pakistan to a thrilling one wicket win, with four balls to spare.
Fazalhaq Farooqi (3/31), Fareed Ahmad Malik (3/31),Rashid Khan (2/25) were the wicket-takers for Afghanistan.
Earlier, Afghanistan were off to a quick start. After a four-run first over by Naseem Shah, young opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz finished the second over with back to back sixes against Mohammad Hasnain.
However, Rauf, who came to bowl the fourth over, rattled the stumps of Gurbaz with a length ball. On the other hand, Hazratullah Zazai was also looking good before getting out to Hasnain on a slow off cutter.
With both openers gone for 43-2 after 4.5 overs, it was a huge test for Afghanistan’s middle order. However, Ibrahim Zadran and Karim Janat batted cautiously to take their team to 72/2 after 10 overs.
In order to give some momentum to Afghanistan innings, Janat (15) decided to take Mohammad Nawaz and went for a big shot but the ball got the elevation not the required distance and was caught at long-on.
Najibullah Zadran (10) hit a six against Shadab Khan and cleared his intention. However, he holed out to Fakhar Zaman while going for another one. Thereafter, captain Mohammad Nabi, who is playing his 100th game, got out for a golden duck, courtesy an inside-edge ricochets onto the stumps on the bowling of Naseem Shah.
Ibrahim Zadran, who was Afghanistan’s best batter on the day, had the onus to bail his team out from a tricky situation. But, Haris Rauf dismissed him to leave Afghanistan struggling at 104-6 after 16.3 overs.
It was Rashid, who played a useful cameo to give some push to the target. He smashed Rauf for a six and a four to pick up 10 runs in the last over and along with Azmatullah Omarzai (10 not out off 10) took Afghanistan to 129-6 in 20 overs.