Amazing Pakistan script an amazing victory……..
After a discouraging defeat against India, Pakistan returned from the dead to seal a nail-biting encounter against Afghanistan on Friday. Afghanistan almost pulled off a miraculous victory, but eventually experience harboured Pakistan to safety. Shoaib Malik did well to squeeze 10 runs off the second and third delivery of the final over to carry his team over the line. The match was hanging by the thread till the very last over, but Malik engineered the run-chase in the death overs with some serious astuteness to give his side a nerve-wracking win. Pakistan would have been very satisfied with this victory, especially after the kind of damage India inflicted on them, but this shouldn’t hide the flaws in their line-up. They still have a few questions to answer.
Pakistan needed some momentum going their way in order for the matches to come. The team would have been shattered had Pakistan not won this game. This win will infuse some self-belief and confidence in the potent side. Can this be the turning point for them? Will Pakistan continue their winning momentum against India as well? Will they go on to win the tournament like they famously did in Champions Trophy last year? Well, only time will unveil the mystery.
In their previous encounter against India, Pakistan’s batting collapsed like nine pins. Their bowlers didn’t have enough runs on the board to fight for and Indian batsmen chased down the target with ease. With the matches being played in such quick successions, a team has very less time to get over a massive defeat and for Pakistan, the encounter against Afghanistan was going to be a test of their character.
While fielding first, Pakistani bowlers did well to restrict Afghanistan to a decent total of 258 runs. But Afghanistani bowlers would have definitely felt they had enough runs on the board and almost proved it right. They got off to a flying start by getting the better of Fakhar Zaman for a duck. This was a dream start for Afghanistan and a lot of hopes were raised for the underdogs.
Pakistan needed to settle down; Afghanistan had the bowling to defend 259. Their spin attack has been quite effective and also their primary weapon. Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam realized their need to bid time out in the middle. The target was not a very big one as compared to current standards, and Pakistan had enough firepower to go hard in the death overs. All they needed were a platform, a partnership, to set the tone for the run-chase. Imam and Babar stitched a match-running stand of 154 runs off 195 deliveries. Although the partnership was sluggish, but they did put the side back on track.
The partnership was broken by a run-out, after which Afghanistani bowlers kept chipping wickets at regular intervals. Malik showed extreme composure and brought all his experience into play. Pakistan lost few key wickets in quick successions and at one stage a victory looked difficult, but Malik stuck to his guns and ensured the job was done. Both the batsmen took calculated risks and played out Mujeeb and Rashid Khan cautiously. Imam was picking the spinners quite well whereas Babar showed some astuteness and placed his innings well.
One thing was for sure, Pakistan are never out of the game as long as Malik is at the crease. Pakistan needed 10 off the final over; Afghanistan didn’t have their best bowler bowling the final over, which made all sorts of difference. Aftab Alam was given the responsibility, but this over was more about holding the nerves, which he probably failed to do. Malik, on the other hand, missed out on the first delivery but punished the second one for a maximum to make his intentions clear. A bad delivery though, but still had to be put away. He then swept the third delivery to leave Afghanistan players shattered and stamp a crucial win for his side.
Till the end of the first innings, Pakistan were having a bad day in office. They dropped five catches in all, three of them were dropped by debutant Shaheen Afridi. Their bowlers were not hitting the right length consistently, but this all changed when Imam and Babar started building the partnership and the icing was provided by Malik. This is what a good partnership can do. Pakistan have had a reputation of being poor chasers in ODIs, but this game will certainly change a lot of perceptions.
This was easily one of the best games of the season, but Pakistan have a lot of areas to work on. They are very unpredictable and this game was just a testament to it. Afghanistan did put up a spirited fight, and was unfortunate to have not won the game after pulling things back in the middle. Pakistan play their next game against India on Sunday, the last game was a one-way traffic. If Pakistan are eyeing to change their fortunes against the arch-rivals, they need to pull up in all the three departments.