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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Asif Ali, the new finisher in town

24 needed off the last 12 balls, the batsman smashes four sixes in the penultimate over as Pakistan survive Afghanistan scare.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Dubai |
Updated: October 30, 2021 8:18:21 am
Asif Ali, Pakistan vs AfghanistanPakistan's Asif Ali, right, celebrates with batting partner Shadab Khan after their win in the T20 World Cup match between Pakistan and Afghanistan in Dubai, UAE, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

Once again, Pakistan almost stumbled at the end. And once again, Asif Ali was there to take them home.

With 24 needed off 12 the last deliveries, Asif hit sixes for fun, smashing four of them in the 19th over by Karim Janat to settle the issue. An overzealous fan ran onto the ground and fell on the batsman’s feet before being nabbed by the security personnel. In the stands, Pakistani supporters sang Asif’s name. With three wins on the bounce, Babar Azam’s team is now all but through to the semifinal. In their ‘nayya daur’, they have a new finisher.

Asif did it against New Zealand as well, taking Tim Southee to the cleaners. Here, he was under bigger pressure after a fantastic 18th over from Naveen-ul-Haq that had just two runs and Shoaib Malik’s wicket.

The first ball of the 19th over from Janat was full, in the slot. Asif got under the ball and sent it over long-off. Then a sequence ensued. A dot ball was followed by another length delivery at a military medium pace. Asif cleared the deep mid-wicket boundary. Another dot ball came before back-to-back sixes took Pakistan to their victory target of 148 with an over to spare. Asif has always been a six-hitting hero in domestic cricket. The T20 World Cup has been witnessing his progress at the international level.

For three matches on the spin, Pakistan chased and their approach was pretty similar. Pakistani statistician Mazher Arshad put out a stat on Twitter: Against India, they required 100 off the last 12 overs. Against New Zealand, the equation was 96 off the last 12. Today, it was 99 off the last 12.

There was a difference though. Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi had held his trump card back for the back-end of the innings and Rashid Khan bowled four of those last 12 overs. Once the leg-spinner came into the attack, the game changed.

A flighted delivery accounted for Mohammad Hafeez. Malik tried to take the attack to Afghanistan’s main bowler and hit him for a six. But Rashid responded with Babar’s wicket through a googly. After playing the role of an anchor and scoring 51 off 47 balls, the Pakistan captain fell prey to a poor shot. He actually could have avoided that greedy heave, which suddenly put his team under the pump.

Little transgressions aside, Pakistan have been playing in this tournament as a well-drilled, professional unit, moving on from individual effort and showmanship. Never before did a Pakistan team look so collective. Hunger for converting the singles into twos has been a welcome addition to their cricket, as also top-class fielding. Their batsmen ran like hare between the wickets. Their fast bowlers yet again went flat out.

Afghanistan on the contrary dropped a couple of catches to release the pressure.

T20 cricket in its boom and bust variety can be very exciting. Afghanistan, running high on passion, batted that way. Pakistan pacers went flat out. A Haris Rauf thunderbolt worked up the Speed Gun – 153kph. Afghanistan’s response to serious pace was lusty hitting. They didn’t look bothered at the fall of wickets as long as their batsmen were clearing the boundary.

Shaheen Shah Afridi dismissed Mohammad Shahzad. Rahmanullah Gurbaz walloped Imad Wasim over mid-wicket for a six. Asghar Afghan piled more misery on the left-arm spinner with another six and a four. Haris came and beat Afghan for pace. Janat upper-cut the fast bowler over deep third man for a maximum.

It felt like cricket was Afghanistan’s escape route to freedom. They moved in fourth gear all along, clutches of wickets notwithstanding.

The 71-run seventh-wicket partnership between Gulbadin Naib and Nabi was gorgeous. Hasan Ali, who had earlier bowled a maiden, gave away 21 runs in his fourth over. Haris was accounted for three fours in his final over.

Towards the end of the Afghanistan innings, Pakistan seemed to be surrendering the momentum. A Pakistan team of its earlier vintage might have let the downturn affect their batting performance. The new Pakistan have embraced a winning mentality.

In his smart seats, Shahid Afridi looked happy.

Brief scores: Afghanistan: 147/6 in 20 overs (M Nabi 35, G Naib 35; Imad Wasim 2/25) lost to Pakistan 148/5 in 19 overs (Babar Azam 51; Rashid Khan 2/25) by 5 wickets.

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