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.
The top-two ranked ODI sides will go head-to-head in one of the most pivotal clashes of the 2019 ICC World Cup with England and India set to lock horns at Edgbaston on Sunday.
It is India who come into the clash with momentum on their side with the Men in Blue just one point away from clinching a place in the semi-final.
England, on the other hand, have their backs against the wall after three defeats and are under immense pressure to keep their semi-final qualification hopes alive with a win on Sunday.
The stakes are as high as they can be, especially for England, and the outcome could very well come down to the finest of margins.
Here, we look at three key battles that could decide Sunday’s clash.
SHAMI V BAIRSTOW
Mohammed Shami has been a revelation for India so far in the World Cup ever since he came into the playing XI in place of the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
The 29-year-old pacer is looking fitter and leaner than ever and has already picked up eight wickets in his two appearances including a stunning hat-trick against Afghanistan.
The right-arm pacer looked in menacing form in the recent outing against Windies and he will once again be trusted to lead the new-ball attack alongside Jasprit Bumrah.
Up against Shami first up will be Jonny Bairstow who has now failed to fire in both of England’s defeats against Sri Lanka and Australia. The England opener was looking in good touch at the start of the tournament and he will be eager to get back to his very best with his side in a desperate situation.
Bairstow has hit out at England’s critics recently but the Yorkshireman will have to make his bat do the talking on Sunday. Shami, however, isn’t going to make his task easier with the way he has been bowling of late.
KULDEEP V ROOT
Amidst England’s shambles, Joe Root has remained a class apart with the right-hander having a terrific individual tournament with the bat.
The England stalwart has already racked up 432 runs in seven innings with the help of two tons and three half-centuries and is looking like a hard man to dislodge at the moment.
Root’s personal battle with Kuldeep Yadav will be a pivotal one with the young wrist-spinner being one of India’s biggest wicket-taking threat. Root was initially bamboozled by Kuldeep when India toured England last year but the Englishman quickly got on top of the spinner as the series progressed.
Kuldeep is slowly starting to rediscover his best after a poor IPL campaign but the India spinner will have his task cut out against an in-form Root. If the England No3 gets on top of Kuldeep and the spinners, it could be hard for India to contain England to a manageable total.
ROHIT V ARCHER
With the injury to Shikhar Dhawan, the importance of Rohit Sharma with the bat has only increased for India.
The India deputy skipper had a stellar start to his World Cup campaign two tons and a half-century but he has since gone off the boil. Rohit’s cheap dismissals in the last two games has seen India struggle with the bat against Afghanistan and West Indies and the right-hander will need to raise his levels once again on Sunday.
Rohit’s new-ball battle with Jofra Archer will definitely be one to watch with the England pacer looking extremely good in his maiden World Cup campaign.
The Barbados-born pacer has been the best English bowler on display with 16 wickets in seven games to his name and he has the capability to turn up the heat on India’s batsmen.
If he can get England Rohit’s wicket early, it could be half the battle won for the hosts.
The Pakistan-Afghanistan match at the 2019 World Cup turned out to be more explosive than anticipated as fans clashed on an emotionally and politically charged day at Headingley on Saturday.
Police were forced to intervene after fights broke out between Afghanistan and Pakistan supporters in Leeds.
The match was sitting on a tinderbox with Asian News International agency reporting that billboards were put up around Birmingham with the message “Help end enforced disappearances in Pakistan.”
The situation got out of hand after a plane flew a banner over the ground with the message: “Justice for Balochistan.”
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province, bordering Afghanistan and Iran and struggling with violence.
AFP reported West Yorkshire police as saying: “At 11:55 am today police received reports of some trouble outside the ground linked to people trying to get in. Officers attended to disperse the group without any issues and remained on patrol in the area.”
The International Cricket Council said the tournament should not be used as a platform for political statements.
“We are aware of some scuffles among a minority of fans and are currently working with the venue security team and the local police force, West Yorkshire Police, to ensure there are no further incidents,” the ICC said in a statement.
“We do not condone any sort of political messages at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup and will work with West Yorkshire police to deal with and understand why this has happened and to ensure it does not happen again.”