Pakistan defeated Afghanistan by five wickets in their T20 World Cup 2021 clash on Friday night, and here are our five takeaways from the game.
1- Asif Ali is as clutch as they come
Asif Ali is a bad man. Asif Ali is an assassin. Asif Ali is Pakistan’s saviour. Asif Ali is our Michael Jordan when the game's on the line.
All of this is true for this man from Faisalabad.
What the 30-year-old did on Tuesday night against New Zealand is what most men only get to do it once on the biggest stage. But for him to bail out Pakistan again, against Afghanistan last night, and in even more impressive style, is phenomenal and a type of high point that can only be written by script writers in movies.
Pakistan needed 24 off the final 12 balls, with the game set for a nail-biting finish. This is when Asif decided to spare Pakistan fans of another nervy finish. He clobbered four big ones in the penultimate over but more importantly, refused a single in between, showing that he knew it was his moment and that if anyone could do it, it was only him, and certainly not Shadab Khan on the other end.
The man is in the side for a particular job, and he knows that when the time comes, he is the fittest man to deliver.
2- The absurdity of it all
As someone wise said it on Twitter, this is not a World Cup, this is an Asif Ali apology tour. When the 30-year-old was picked for the Pakistan squad, he was widely panned, and rightly so, as his numbers for the year were extremely poor to stay the least. But in the last two matches he has made his critics eat their words, delete their tweets and hop on his bandwagon.
It’s this absurdity of sport that us, the casual fans with big mouths and lots of opinions cannot understand. How can a man who averaged 10.44 in 2020 and had just 13 runs under his belt for 2021 prior to the World Cup suddenly become this good? It’s one of the big mysteries of the year.
3- Asif's backers deserve credit
Asif deserves all the praises but so do the men, or rather the chief selectors, who kept on picking him despite his numbers going south, also deserve a mention or two. First, Misbahul Haq deserves credit for not only bringing/keeping Asif in the national team when he was in charge, but also for giving him his big break with Islamabad United and even before when he was a regular jobber struggling to choose between a 9-to-5 gig and his passion for cricket.
And incumbent selector Mohammad Wasim must also get his due share, for it was him who insisted that Asif deserved a spot not just in the reserves but in the final 15. This is a small victory for the men of the game who’ve played professionally and can see abilities not always defined by numbers and stats.
4- But there is a limit to heroic acts one can pull
The lightning has struck twice. Asif has bailed out Team Pakistan twice in a week. As good as he has suddenly become, we cannot challenge the odds again, or at least any time soon. Others around him (cc: Mohammad Hafeez), especially in modest run chases, have to do better and not let matches drift into space where hero acts are needed – not when you have designs on going all the way and winning it all.
5- Afghans showed their warrior spirit
Afghanistan team is still raw but it can be seen that they have the tool to emerge as a more refined version with a bit of work. After being largely dominated by Pakistan bowlers, they fought back to put a more than competitive total on the board. With the ball, too, the Afghans showed their warrior spirit, refusing to go down without a fight, and only did after being outmatched on the talent front. This nation has a fight or two in them. We did not learn that last night; it was only reinforced.