Pakistan managed to keep their World Cup dream alive as they emerged victorious from a dramatic game against Afghanistan at Headingley on Saturday.
Imad Wasim hit the winning boundary, finishing off the match with two balls to spare. Wasim was awarded man of the match for his match-winning innings of 49 runs off 54 balls.
“When I went in they were bowling brilliantly but I just hung in there,” said Imad. “We wanted to bat out the 50 overs and see.
“Gulbadin (Naib) was the only one who could be targeted. They have world-class spinners so we attacked him. Thank you to the crowd, it feels like home here. They gave us a boost in confidence.”
Naib, in his post-match remarks, regretted the Afghan side had yet again failed to score but lauded Pakistan for keeping it together till the end.
“We fight really well, the boys gave 100 per cent but in the end we missed an opportunity to win the match,” said Afghanistan captain Naib.
“Credit to Pakistan, they controlled their nerves.
“We missed again. You can face a lot of these situations, we are working harder and harder. The matches we have lost, we have improved.”
Pakistani batsmen struggled against Afghanistan spinners from the get go. They had lost their opener Fakhar Zaman (0) and their review on the second ball of the innings. Zaman, who was given lbw on Majibur Rahman's delivery, thought the ball had hit the bat first and decided to go for a review.
Babar Azam — who scored his maiden World Cup century in Pakistan's match against New Zealand earlier this week — and Imamul Haq then formed a 72-run partnership which came to an end after the latter was stumped on the last ball of the 16th over attempting to hit Nabi's ball.
Babar Azam was next to go, bowled out in the 18th over by Mohammad Nabi after scoring 45 off 51 balls.
It was after the dismissals of Mohammad Hafeez (19 off 35 balls), Haris Sohail (27 off 57 balls) and skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed (18 off 22), that Pakistan's prospects of winning the match started looking shaky. Afghanistan's chances of victory at this point, as per the win predictor, had risen to 79 per cent.
Tailenders Shadab Khan, along with Wasim struggled to hold their ground and formed a 50-run partnership but runs were still hard to come by as Afghan spinners continued to keep the Pakistani batsmen in check.
Khan (11) was run out by Gulbadin Nabi and Ikram Alikhil when he was running back for a second run.
Khan's replacement, Wahab Riaz, then joined Wasim to see the match through to the end.
Afghanistan posted 227 runs for the loss of nine wickets.
The top scorers of the day were Asghar Afghan and Najibullah Zadran, both of whom scored 42 off 35 and 51 balls respectively. Rahmat Shah scored 35 off 43 balls.
Shaheen Shah Afridi stood out amongst the bowlers, bagging four wickets in his 10-over spell. He dismissed Gulbadin Naib (15) and Hashmatullah Shahidi (0) on two consecutive deliveries in the fifth over and was on the verge of a hatrick. He could not get the third consecutive wicket, however, as his yorker went past Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed for a 4 leg bye. The over proved to be expensive otherwise, giving away 14 runs.
The 19-year-old struck again in the 45th over and bowled out Zadran (42). The wicket came right after Zadran hit the sixth boundary of his innings, leading his team to 201. Afridi returned in the 47th over and picked his fourth wicket of the day by dismissing Rashid Khan, who was caught by Fakhar Zaman after he tried to hit an off-cutter over mid-off. Sajjad Sadiq, editor of the Pak Passion website, noted that Afridi was the first teenager to take a four-wicket haul in a World Cup innings.
Wahab Riaz and Imad Wasim also contributed to dismantling Afghanistan's batting order and took two wickets each. Riaz dismissed Mohammad Nabi (16) and Hamid Hassan (1) and gave away 29 runs in 8 overs. Wasim picked up wickets of Rahmat Shah (25) and Ikram Alikhil (24).
Shadab Khan took the crucial wicket of Afghan (42), who built a healthy 64-run partnership with Alikhil after Afghanistan had lost 3 wickets in the early stages of the game.
Afghan had helped Afghanistan recover after three early wickets with a fiery knock of 42 off 35 balls by hitting two sixes and three fours. His partner Alikhil was slower, scoring 24 runs off 66 balls, hitting one boundary in the process.
After Pakistani bowlers dismantled the partnership between Alikhil and Afghan, Zadran and Nabi struggled to maintain a healthy run rate that had dipped slightly. ESPN Cricinfo's predicted Afghanistan scoring up to at least 230 in 50 overs.
The quick wickets led to some heated clashes between the supporters of Pakistan and Afghanistan and some were reportedly expelled from the stadium. A video clip, that was being shared across social media, showed a few men that appeared to be Afghanistan supporters beating a man wearing a Pakistan cricket team shirt outside the stadium. They were separated by spectators.
Afghanistan won the toss and chosen to bat against Pakistan.
Afghan captain Gulbadin Naib said the wicket looked good on a sunny day and will help the spinners in the second innings. He was hopeful of repeating a Pakistan defeat by his side during their warm-up match.
"Pakistan is a good side, they've played plenty of good games. We beat them in the warm-up so we'll put our 100 per cent in this game," he said.
Hamid Hassan is back in the side for the Afghans, replacing Dawlat Zadran.
Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed he would have liked to bat first as well. "We wanted to bat first but unfortunately toss is not in our hands. Our bowling line-up is bowling well so hopefully they'll restrict them," he said.
Acknowledging that his side was entering the match with a high momentum, Sarfaraz said they were focusing on today's game and not "too far" beyond. Pakistan are unchanged.
The Green Shirts need to beat Afghanistan today to stay in semifinal contention. A win would lift Pakistan above England and into fourth in the standings.
Afghanistan have lost all seven of its matches, so far, its longest losing streak in ODIs.
Pakistan: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Haris Sohail, Sarfaraz Ahmed (capt & wk), Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Shaheen Afridi
Afghanistan: Gulbadin Naib (capt), Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Asghar Afghan, Samiullah Shinwari, Mohammad Nabi, Najibullah Zadran, Ikram Alikhil (wk), Rashid Khan, Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman