India’s fate in the tournament was hanging on an Afghanistan win and the Afghan bowlers, breathing fire in the cauldron of Sharjah cricket stadium, nearly ran through the Pakistan batting lineup while defending 129/7 before Naseem sealed the deal in the first two balls of the final over bowled by Fazalhaq Farooqi. Naseem’s hits clinched a thriller for Pakistan with just a solitary wicket. This win has booked a place in the final for Pakistan alongside Sri Lanka, rendering the next two Super 4 matches inconsequential.
As it happened: Pakistan vs Afghanistan
When the Pakistan team walked back into the dressing room after having restricted Afghanistan to a modest 129/7, they would have fancied knocking off the runs with consummate ease. By the last six overs of the match started, the tempers started to fly on the field and the stadium turned into a deafening event arena. Asif Ali charging Fareed Ahmad with his bat after being dismissed at short fine-leg in the 19th over was just an example of the tension on the night.
Afghanistan’s Fareed Ahmad, left, and Pakistan’s Asif Ali, right, react after Ali was dismissed by Ahmad. (AP Photo)
The buzz here at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium was much greater than what would happen to India at the end of the night. It became a battle of egos as an Afghan-dominated crowd thronged the stadium.
Afghanistan, as they most often do, did give a scare at the top of the innings when Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz got them off to a flying start, scoring 36 in 3.5 overs. The extra pace of Pakistan fast bowlers, on a pitch that resembled a glass sheet, looked to be working in favour of Afghanistan as they started exploiting the short boundaries.
UNBELIEVABLE FINISH! 🤩Pakistan are through to the Asia Cup final💪#AsiaCup2022 | #AFGvPAK https://t.co/T2KGjTmo5k
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) 1662572049000
The same pitch looked like powdered glass by the end of the match and the Afghan bowlers started to weave a stranglehold on the Pakistan batters from the second ball of the innings when Farooqi trapped captain Babar Azam right in front of the stumps.
Farooqi (3/31) and fellow left-arm pacer Fareed Ahmad (3/31) backed up Rashid Khan (2/25) and Mujeeb Ur Rahman (0/12) immaculate spells only for Naseem to spoil their party.
However, the Pakistan attack is too well seasoned to be exploited by a batting lineup that is yet to attain a premium standard in international cricket. Soon, the extra pace became too hot to handle for the inexperienced Afghanistan batters. And then the spinners Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan came in and choked them.
The Pakistan pace trio of Naseem Shah (1/19), Mohammad Hasnain (1/34) and Haris Rauf (2/26) decided to amp up the heat as a soothing breeze swept across the ground. They started delivering the heavy balls, hitting the hard length and relentlessly attacking the stumps. As a result, Zazai, Gurbaz and skipper Mohammad Nabi all were bowled.
Ibrahim Zadran, someone identified by Afghanistan, to anchor their innings showed glimpses of his talent that can’t be ignored. Even as he tried rebuilding, the pressure swelled from the other end. His partners Karim Janat and Najibullah Zadran, tasked with increasing the run-rate, were left suffocated by the Shadab and Nawaz. Both of them perished trying to clear the straight boundary.
Despite Ibrahim sticking around for his 35 off 37, the big flourish never came. It was up to Afghanistan’s biggest Rashid Khan to land a couple of lusty blows in the last over off Rauf that gave them a remote chance to turn things their way with the ball.