HAMBANTOTA - Naseem Shah once again proved his mettle as a composed finisher after Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam’s half-centuries as Pakistan came from behind to edge Afghanistan by one wicket in a nail-biter on Thursday.
Afghanistan started things steadily after winning the toss, as their openers dealt with Pakistan’s pace attack sensibly. Rahmanullah Gurbaz charged at Pakistani bowlers, while Ibrahim Zadran anchored through the innings, amid the frustration of Pakistani bowlers, who bowled Afghanistan inside 20 overs in the last match at a paltry total of 59.
Afghanistan openers knitted a brilliant 227-run opening stand, which is the second-highest opening stand against Pakistan in ODI cricket. Rahmanullah Gurbaz reached his fifth ODI hundred during the partnership before it was broken by Usama Mir. Ibrahim Zadran departed after scoring 101-ball 80 runs, featuring six boundaries and two sixes.
Meanwhile, Rahmanullah Gurbaz continued the onslaught and reached the 150-run mark before being caught behind off Shaheen Afridi. His brilliant 151 runs innings featured 14 boundaries and three sixes. Pakistani bowlers did a remarkable job in the death overs to restrict Afghanistan to 300 in the allocated 50 overs. Shaheen Afridi picked up two wickets, while Usama Mir and Naseem Shah contributed with a wicket each.
In a post-match talk,
In the aftermath of the match, Shadab Khan, player of the match, said: “Experiencing these phases is a common occurrence for senior players like me. I make a conscious effort to maintain a composed demeanor. The pitch conditions were... given that their team boasts world-class spinners, I opted to tackle the fast bowlers. Considering the lengthy boundaries, my strategy revolved around securing twos rather than boundaries. Reflecting on that pivotal shot [during the World Cup match] that ended against Zimbabwe, I took the blame for the game’s outcome. That moment held significant importance for me.”
In his remarks, Pakistan Captain Babar Azam said: “Full credit goes to the entire team. During Imam and my partnership, our focus was on constructing a robust alliance, with an aim to sustain our presence well into the 40-over mark. We were well aware that we could successfully chase down a target of 80 to 90 runs within the last 10 overs. Naseem also displayed his mettle in high-pressure situations. When it comes to facing spin bowling, I persistently strive for enhancement. Contentment never settles in; there’s always room for improvement. Our attention is now directed towards the upcoming final match.”
Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afghanistan’s captain, said: “The defeat stings because we had accumulated a substantial run tally, only to witness the game slip from our grasp in the final moments. Specifically, in the 49th over, there were some deliveries that should have been easier to handle, yet they were capitalised on by the opposition batsmen. The consistent performance of our opening duo has spanned a year and a half, and I hope they maintain this momentum. Both teams showcased commendable skills. However, the mounting pressure eluded our control.”