Imad Wasim has tipped Afghanistan to be a “force to be reckoned with” as they gain more experience after Pakistan were pushed to their limits by their Asian neighbours at Headingley.
Pakistan slipped to 156 for six in pursuit of 229 but Imad’s 49 not out saw Pakistan squeak home with three wickets and two balls to spare as they moved above England and into fourth in the World Cup standings.
An eighth straight defeat is an unfair reflection of Afghanistan’s performances, having also taken India into the final over before falling narrowly short, and Imad believes the future is bright for Gulbadin Naib’s side.
Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman were instrumental for Afghanistan in steaming temperatures on Saturday but Imad is insistent he was not feeling any nerves at Pakistan’s situation.
He said: “No, it wasn’t like that. We’ve got very good players in the end. I knew if one of us stayed in we would have made it.
“Rashid Khan was bowling brilliantly, if you take a chance you might gift him a wicket so we’re like ‘just don’t give a wicket to Rashid Khan and then the rest we will see how it goes’.
“Their spinners are world-class. If they score consistently 250 or 260 on any track they can cause trouble to any team.
“Credit goes to Afghanistan, the last five years they rose up and they’re giving a tough time to every team.
“They gave India a tough time and they gave us a tough time. Afghanistan is a force to be reckoned with in a couple of years’ time.”
Imad was given not out on one when pinned on the pad by Rashid and had Afghanistan not spurned their review earlier, the decision would have been overturned.
He followed up his two for 48 to help restrict Afghanistan to what seemed a modest 227 for nine at the halfway stage, only Pakistan’s top order to succumb to spin.
Imad said: “There weren’t good shots at that stage but these guys have won us games many times. It had to be someone else.
“The result doesn’t matter to me because if I give 100 per cent and the rest follow we are good enough to beat any side on a given day. It was a great innings.”
A carnival atmosphere created inside the ground was soured slightly by some crowd trouble as the match wound to a close, with a minor pitch invasion following Imad scoring the winning runs.
Hours earlier, the International Cricket Council announced it was investigating “scuffles among a minority of fans” following an incident during the day.
“We worked with the venue security and police throughout the day to ensure any issues were dealt with as efficiently as possible,” the ICC said in a statement.
“We constantly review our security plans and will continue to do so to ensure we’re providing the safest possible environment for fans to enjoy the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup.
“We will not tolerate this type of behaviour, and will take appropriate action against any anti-social behaviour that spoils the enjoyment for the majority of fans.”
While Imad said “we didn’t know what happened”, Afghanistan captain Gulbadin implored followers of his team to stay out of trouble.
He said: “We want a friendship to anyone and we were excited to play this kind of tournament and this kind of match with anyone.
“This is only a cricket game, just watch like a cricket game. It’s a sport.
“I’m just playing for my country, cricket and nothing else. I request to all audience watching matches, please just watch like a sport, not like other.”
Pakistan took 18 from the 46th over bowled by Gulbadin, with Imad hitting three fours, but the skipper feels a hamstring injury to Hamid Hassan, who only bowled two overs, meant he was pressed into action.
He added: “I think the main turning point is Hamid. If Hamid was there, maybe I (would not have had to) bowl more than three or four overs.”
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.