Afghanistan geared up for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 in England and Wales with a brilliant performance against Pakistan in Bristol, prevailing by three wickets in a tight affair.
Afghanistan pinned their opponents to 262 all out thanks to a dominant bowling effort, and despite a masterful Babar Azam ton, Hazratullah Zazai’s 28-ball 49 and 74* from Hashmatullah Shahidi saw Gulbadin Naib’s side reach their target with just two balls to spare in a thrilling finish on Friday, 24 May.
It was another disappointing outing for Pakistan, having been beaten in their last 10 ODIs prior to this fixture.
Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat, and Afghanistan’s good early efforts with the ball were marred by some poor fielding, as a few catches went down in the early overs.
Hamid Hassan cleaned up the in-form Imam-ul-Haq (32) however, prompting jubilant roars from the Afghan supporters. A double-strike from Mohammad Nabi (3/46) then shifted the momentum in favour of Afghanistan.
Fakhar Zaman (19) was lured into a drive and bowled through the gate, before Haris Sohail played down the wrong line, exposing a slither of his off-stump, sufficient room for Nabi to hone in and dislodge the bails once again.
Azam then began to accumulate in style, unperturbed by the wickets falling around him. He brought up his 50 from 51, before reaching his century from 99, Shoaib Malik’s 44 providing adequate support and helping to steady the ship in the middle overs.
Nabi, grabbing his third wicket, then forced Malik to hole out as he looked to accelerate, and Pakistan collapsed from 203/4 in the 38th over to a disappointing 262 all out.
Rashid Khan was imperious in his efforts, dismissing the experienced duo of Sarfaraz Ahmed (13) and Mohammad Hafeez (12) in a nine-over spell which yielded just 27 runs. Babar’s dismissal in the 46th over quelled any chance of a late run-surge.
In reply, Afghanistan got off to a swift start. Mohammad Shahzad (23*) did leave the field as a precaution after feeling pain in his left knee, having got his innings under way fluently, but his partner Zazai remained in a free-scoring mood. He smashed Shaheen Shah Afridi (0/51) for five fours in the fourth over but fell one short of 50 after skying Imad Wasim, Malik taking an excellent running catch from deep mid-wicket.
The classy Rahmat Shah chipped in with 32 before edging behind down leg, gifting Wahab Riaz (3/46) his first wicket, and two quick scalps from the economical Wasim (2/29) helped plug the run-flow somewhat in the middle overs. Samiullah Shinwari (22) departed just as he had begun to find his rhythm, and the run-rate started to rise as Pakistan could sense a potential comeback.
Three wickets in 10 balls then ensued as Sarfaraz’s side probed successfully and Afghanistan began to flounder, Wahab’s brace of wickets rocking the batting side.
Still, Shahidi was at his watchful best, calmly manoeuvering the ball around the park and guiding his side to their target. With four needed from the final over, and Rashid for company, they confirmed victory with two balls to spare.