The Afghan warriors did their best but this is a Pakistan team of rare quality. They know how to eke out a result in their favour when things are spiraling out of control and that’s the trait of a champion team.
How many times before Friday had you heard of Asif Ali? Captain Babar Azam said the other day that he is their designated finisher after he took Pakistan past the finishing line against New Zealand.
The Pakistan right-hander came to the party yet again when it seemed Group 2 would be thrown open by Afghanistan. He came in at the fall of Shoaib Malik on a pitch where the ball was stopping a bit, but it seemed he was there from ball 1.
Asif knew Afghanistan paceman Karim Janat was the weak-link in the Afghanistan attack and he launched a vicious attack as Pakistan needed 24 off 12. Four sixes flew from his bat in the 19th over as Janat looked a fish out of water and Pakistan notched up their third win and they are well on course to finish on top of the group.
But till the 19th over, Afghanistan fought for every inch. While Gulbadin Naib and Mohammed Nabi were brilliant in their 71-run seventh-wicket partnership to give Afghanistan a fighting chance, the likes of Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman were on the mark when it came to restricting Pakistan batsmen.
While Mujeeb gave only 14 off his four overs bowling in Powerplay, Rashid returned with figures of 2-26, that included the scalp of Babar Azam.
But then, this Pakistan side has the wherewithal to deal with adversities. Babar (51 off 47 balls) anchored the chase as Rashid and offie Nabi looked to stifle Pakistan. Babar got the necessary help from the wily old fox Shoaib Malik (19 off 15 balls) at a crucial juncture as they took Pakistan close before both fell to leave in on Asif.
Being reduced to 76-6 at one stage, Naib (35 no off 25 balls) and Mohammed Nabi (35 no off 32 balls) put up 71 runs off 43 balls to keep Afghanistan in the game. But they weren’t throwing their bats at everything. Rather, both Naib and Nabi were waiting for the right opportunity and it finally arrived in the 18th over when Hasan Ali came on to bowl.
Naib targeted the short boundary over square leg and he hit a six right at the beginning that put the pressure on the paceman. 20 runs off the 18th gave the momentum that Afghanistan needed at that stage and it was followed by another off 15 that was bowled by Rauf.
Pakistan weren’t exactly prepared for an assault like this, but pacemann Shaheen Afridi bowled a brilliant final over to keep the score below 150. And at the end of the day, it proved important as Pakistan notched up the runs with an over to spare.