It was difficult to know precisely when the signs became ominous for Pakistan. Was it when two overthrows allowed Afghanistan to turn a single into three runs early in the chase? Or was it when Shaheen Afridi strayed on the pads first ball and was clipped away for four? Or when, after the introduction of Haris Rauf, Rahmanullah Gurbaz played two back-to-back cuts for four, followed by an even more gorgeous square drive?
Whenever it was, there were early signs for those who’ve seen the Afghanistan opening pair of late that a special one was on the cards. Spurred on by an electric 21,500-strong crowd at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in an ICC ODI World Cup match in Chennai on October 23, Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran brought the roof down, reaching their respective fifties off 38 and 54 balls, setting Afghanistan on course to its highest successful run chase, of 283, in ODI cricket and a first win — by eight wickets — over Pakistan in the format.
It was the second time this pair had put on a century stand this tournament; they were helped by the fact that the ball just did not grip and turn as much under the lights as Shadab Khan and Usama Mir would’ve liked.
Gurbaz and Zadran had added chanceless 130 runs for the first wicket when Afridi, returning for his second spell, had Gurbaz caught for a 53-ball 65. The boundaries dried up immediately after Gurbaz’s departure, but Zadran, struggling with cramps and humidity, and Rahmat Shah kept rotating the strike and ensured the asking rate did not balloon up. The two added 60 for the second wicket before Zadran was caught behind off Hasan Ali for 87.
A lull in the proceedings followed, with Pakistan bowlers stringing together a few quiet overs, aided by lack of dew. However, No. 3 Rahmat’s 58-ball fifty not only calmed frayed nerves but also doused any hopes of a Pakistani rearguard. Rahmat and Hashmatullah Shahidi saw their team past the finish line with an unbeaten 96-run stand, cool demeanour and excellent running between the wickets.
In the afternoon, Babar Azam won the toss and chose to bat. There was no better time for Babar to remind everyone of his class. In the blazing sunshine, Pakistan’s best batsman marched out to bat amid a rousing reception. With little adventure and plenty of caution, he got to his 50 in 69 balls. Shahidi rotated his spinners to keep Babar guessing and force a mistake.
Babar did not take risks against Rashid Khan, nudging him for singles down the ground and employing the cut using the bounce when his line strayed outside off stump. But on what looked like a tough wicket to bat on, Babar’s urge to put his foot on the accelerator became evident as the innings hurtled towards the final 10. After all, Pakistan was 56-0 in the first 10 but could manage only 44 for 1 and 39 for 2 in the subsequent 10-over phases, thanks in no small measure to off-spinner Mohammad Nabi.
He consistently landed the ball in a spot and did not allow Pakistan to score freely, finishing with figures of 1 for 31. More importantly, his holding job allowed left-arm spinner Noor Ahmad to be the attacking bowler. Ahmad, who replaced Fazalhaq Farooqi in the XI, was making his World Cup debut and took three for 49, including the wicket of Babar.
The Pakistan captain has struggled to keep his pull shots down against the spinners, getting caught at midwicket against the Netherlands and Australia. Here, batting 74 off 92, Noor bowled a short ball outside off, which Babar could only hit straight to the cover fielder, guilty of prioritising brute power over placement.
Earlier, Noor had trapped Abdullah Shafique lbw for 58 before having Mohammad Rizwan caught sweeping for eight—both well-planned dismissals. Well aware of Rizwan’s proclivity for the sweep—he opened his account by putting away a sweep shot—and realizing his itch to dominate the face-off, Noor bowled one wide of off stump. Rizwan had to reach out to sweep and ended up miscuing it to the fielder at short fine. Meanwhile, Shafique was given out upon review after missing the sweep and being struck in front by a fullish wrong’un on the leg stump.
But just when Pakistan’s batting was threatening to unravel, Shadab and Iftikhar Ahmed shared a counterattacking 73-run sixth-wicket stand, off just 45 balls. Shadab was promoted ahead of Iftikhar, which gave the latter the freedom to attack from the get-go. Iftikhar smacked 40 off 27 balls, Shadab 40 off 38, and even though three runs and two wickets came off the last over, the last five combined cost a rudderless Afghanistan pace attack 61 runs. But that wouldn’t matter in the end.
Last year, Naseem Shah led Pakistan to a remarkable victory against Afghanistan in Sharjah in the T20 Asia Cup. It was a tumultuous game, full of bedlam, and decided off a last-ball six. Afghanistan, which had looked in control for much of the game, was left shattered by a team that refused to yield. On Monday night, the Afghans served up a cold slice of revenge with elan.
Pakistan Innings: Abdullah Shafique lbw b Noor Ahmad 58 Imam-ul-Haq c Naveen-ul-Haq b Azmatullah Omarzai 17 Babar Azam c Mohammad Nabi b Noor Ahmad 74 Mohammad Rizwan c Mujeeb Ur Rahman b Noor Ahmad 8 Saud Shakeel c Rashid Khan b Mohammad Nabi 25 Shadab Khan c Mohammad Nabi b Naveen-ul-Haq 40 Iftikhar Ahmed c Azmatullah Omarzai b Naveen-ul-Haq 40 Shaheen Shah Afridi not out 3 Extras: (LB-4 NB-1 W-12) 17
Total: (For 7 wickets in 50 overs) 282
Fall of wickets: 1/56 2/110 3/120 4/163 5/206 6/279 7/282
Afghanistan bowling: Naveen-ul-Haq 7-0-52-2, Mujeeb Ur Rahman 8-0-55-0, Mohammad Nabi 10-0-31-1, Azmatullah Omarzai 5-0-50-1, Rashid Khan 10-0-41-0, Noor Ahmad 10-0-49-3.
Afghanistan innings: Rahmanullah Gurbaz c Usama Mir b Shaheen Shah Afridi 65; Ibrahim Zadran c Mohammad Rizwan b Hasan Ali 87; Rahmat Shah not out 77; Hashmatullah Shahidi not out 48. Extras: 9 (nb1; w8)
Total: 286 for 2 in 49 overs
Fall of wicket: 1-130; 2-190
Pakistan bowling: Shaheen Shah Afridi 10-0-58-1; Hasan Ali 10-1-44-1; Haris Rauf 8-1-53-0; Usama Mir 8-0-55-0; Shadab Khan 8-0-49-0; Iftikhar Ahmed 5-0-27-0.