Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib says the loss of key bowler Hamid Hassan was the turning point in their nail-biting World Cup defeat by Pakistan.
Naib’s side were on the wrong end of another close finish after narrow defeats to India and Sri Lanka, coming within a whisker of defending 227 but falling three wickets and two balls short.
Hassan, an experienced campaigner with a decade of ODI experience, hobbled off with a hamstring injury after two overs and his skipper bemoaned it as a fatal blow.
“If Hamid was there at the end, we could have fought and kept the pressure,” said Gulbadin.
“The main turning point was losing him, he bowled two overs and then had to go off. That was a key point.
“The wicket was very slow and didn’t suit some of our bowlers, especially me. Without Hamid it was very difficult to defend any total.
“We lost our main bowler – I wouldn’t have bowled more than three or four overs if we hadn’t lost him.”
Gulbadin opted to bowl himself rather than Samiullah Shinwari in the 46th over, conceding 18 runs and three boundaries as Imad Wasim propelled Pakistan to a fourth win of the tournament.
While none of their batsmen were able to convert starts into big scores, Afghanistan posted a very competitive total on a Headingley track helpful to the spinners.
Their twirlers Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Rashid Khan turned the screw, combining for five wickets, and the run-outs of skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed and Shadab Khan heightened nerves.
But Afghanistan fell short of a first victory at the eighth attempt and Gulbadin paid tribute to Pakistan’s performance, particularly the decisive 49 made by Imad.
“There’s no special reason we are losing these tight games,” he said.
“It was another close game and in other games, against India and Sri Lanka, we had good opportunities to beat this kind of team.
“There wasn’t that much pressure on us – it was all on Pakistan’s side. Credit goes to them and how they finished the game in those conditions.
“We were very close to beating them, but how Imad rotated the strike and controlled his innings deserves a lot of credit.”
Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed was left to thank Imad Wasim after the all-rounder kept the side’s hopes of qualifying for the 2019 ICC World Cup semi-final alive with a vital knock.
The Men in Green were struggling at 156-6 in their chase of 228 against Afghanistan before they emerged victorious by three wickets in a nail-biter of a clash at Headingley in Leeds.
It was Imad who turned match-winner for Pakistan with the bat with the southpaw’s unbeaten 49-run knock taking the side across the finish line with just two balls to spare.
The win propelled Sarfraz’s men to fourth spot in the table above England although the hosts can reclaim that position if they beat India at Edgbaston on Sunday.
“It is a great win for us,” Sarfraz said after his side’s narrow win.
“It was not an easy pitch to bat on, but credit goes to Imad – the way he batted, the way he handled pressure, hats off to him,” he added.
Pakistan looked to be down and out in the run-chase with Afghanistan’s fearsome spin attack tightening the screws before an expensive 46th over by Gulbadin Naib changed the tide of the game.
Spinners had been on top of the Pakistan batsman up to that stage and the Afghan skipper’s decision to bring himself on with the ball turned out to be a poor one with his over going for 18 runs.
Man-of-the-match Imad admitted as much after the game as he revealed his struggles against spin.
“When I went in, Rashid Khan was bowling brilliantly. I couldn’t pick him to be honest,” said Imad.
“But we knew that if we play 50 overs, we’ll win. Gulbadin was the only bowler to be targetted because the wicket was turning square.”
The Afghan skipper, meanwhile, pointed fingers at his team’s batsmen after what was the eighth straight loss in the tournament for the minnows.
“I said at the start of the tournament 30-40 (runs from a batsman) is not enough, you need 60 to 70 or 100, then you can put a good total,” he said.
“But each batsman, including me, should go one step forward. We are learning a lot, so hopefully we’ll do well in the future.”
With the onus now on England to prove their semi-final credentials, Pakistan’s players will have their eyes trained at Edgbaston on Sunday when the hosts take on India.
While an India win would be ideal for Pakistan, skipper Sarfraz is refusing to choose favourites. “Obviously we’ll all watch, hopefully the better team will win,” the Pakistan skipper said to conclude.
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.