Imad Wasim stole victory from the jaws of defeat as Pakistan held on to a nail-biting three-wicket win with two balls to spare to keep their World Cup hopes alive in Headingley on Saturday.
Set a target of 228 by Afghanistan, Pakistan seemed down and out at 156-6 but Imad showed his class as he scored an unbeaten 49 from 54 balls and ensured his team’s semi-final hopes remained alive.
Pakistan were once again on the money with the new ball as left-arm seamer Shaheen Afridi (4-47) opened the game up by picking up two wickets in two balls.
Sarfraz Ahmed opened the bowling with left-arm spinner Wasim, an early sign of it being a day dominated by spin.
Former captain Asghar Afghan took the fight to the Pakistan camp with a 35-ball 42 before he was castled by leg-spinner Shadab Khan. Wicketkeeper Ikram Alikhil was promoted up the order but he took 66 balls to score just 24 runs.
It was once again left to the hugely impressive Najibullah Zadran to provide late order resistance as he scored 42 from 54 balls at number seven.
For Pakistan, spinner Imad picked up 2-48 while Wahab Riaz, playing despite an injured right hand, finished with 2-29 from eight overs.
A total of 227-9 was always going to be a challenging one with the ball taking turn from the opening hour of the match. Afghanistan had as many as five proper spinning options and they employed four to spin a web around Pakistan’s batsmen.
Opener Fakhar Zaman departed second ball lbw to Mujeeb Ur Rahman before Imam-ul-Haq (36) and Babar Azam (45) steadied the ship. But just when Pakistan seemed to be on cruise control, both batsmen tried to attack veteran spinner Mohammad Nabi and paid the ultimate price – Imam stumped and Babar bowled round his legs trying to sweep.
A key moment of the game was when star leg-spinner Rahsid Khan trapped in-form batsman Haros Sohail lbw for 27 after the batsman had been given a lifeline on 17 when a caught-behind wasn’t spotted by the umpire.
Afghanistan continued to apply pressure and the run out of Sarfraz Ahmed left Pakistan reeling 156-6. But just as the match seemed in Afghanistan’s grasp with spinners making the ball talk, skipper Gulbadin Naib inexplicably brought himself into the attack even though he had enough spin options with 46 needed from 30. Wasim smashed 18 runs from that over to change the course of the match.
Spin will be king
The wickets all across England – baring the one at Lord’s that will host the final – have been unusually dry with spinners being deployed in the opening over. There is enough encouragement for wrist and finger spinners and Afghanistan’s ploy against Pakistan should be a clear hint for all teams.
Any and every slow bowler will be required to roll his arm over, which goes completely against what was expected at the beginning of the tournament – of it being a batting dominated World Cup.
Pakistan picked Imad for the World Cup even though he didn’t meet the fitness standards set for team. The idea being Imad offers so much with the ball and bat, some concession needed to be made.
Credit to the management for identifying Imad’s match-winning abilities as he picked up two wickets and took the team past the finish line.
02- Fakhar Zaman has batted twice against Afghanistan. He has been out for a duck in both games. And in both matches, he has fallen lbw to Mujeeb.
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