Image courtesy of: ESPNcricinfo
Pakistan all-rounder Shoaib Malik hammered an unbeaten 51, including 10 runs in the final over, as his side skirted past Afghanistan by three wickets.
With Pakistan winning the match, Afghanistan were denied their first-ever win over the men in green.
Choosing to bat first, Afghanistan made a disappointing start to their innings as opener Ihsanullah was caught and bowled by Mohammad Nawaz for 10 runs.
Mohammad Shahzad, who opened the batting with Ihsanullah, scored 20 before he was caught behind off the bowling of Nawaz.
Hashmatullah Shahidi and Rahmat Shah stabilised the innings with a 63-run partnership before Rahmat was caught and bowled by Nawaz for 36.
Shahidi and Afghanistan captain Asghar Afghan kept the runs flowing with a 94-run stand, during which both batsmen brought up their half-centuries, before Asghar was clean bowled by debutant Shaheen Shah Afridi for 67, which came off 56 balls and included two boundaries and five sixes.
Even though Mohammad Nabi and Najibullah Zadran fell shortly after, Shahidi ensured Afghanistan finished on 257/6 with his career-best knock of 97 not out, which came off 118 balls and included seven boundaries.
Image courtesy of: ESPNcricinfo
Nawaz was the pick of the bowlers with three wickets, while Afridi snapped up two and Hasan Ali chipped in with one.
Chasing 258 to win, Pakistan were dealt a massive blow on the sixth ball of their innings as opener Fakhar Zaman was given out lbw off the bowling of Mujeeb Ur Rahman for a duck.
Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam made up for the loss of Zaman with a 154-run partnership, during which both batsmen surpassed their half-centuries.
Imam ended up making 80 off 104 balls, which included five boundaries and a six, before he was run out by Najibullah.
Azam went on to score 66, which came off 94 deliveries and included four boundaries and a six, before he was stumped by Shahzad off the bowling of Rashid Khan.
Haris Sohail was the next to go, while Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed failed to have an impact as he was clean bowled by Gulbadin Naib for eight runs.
With Rashid proceeding to take out Asif Ali and Nawaz, Pakistan found themselves needing 10 runs to win going into the final over.
Despite failing to score off the first ball, Malik made up for it by hitting a six off Aftab Alam’s second ball. He then finished things off the next ball by hitting a boundary.
Malik finished on 51 off 43 balls, which included three boundaries and a six.
Rashid was the most successful bowler with three wickets, while Mujeeb took two and Naib claimed one.
Asghar was gutted to have lost, and said: “First I want to congratulate Pakistan. Yeah today was tough and thrilling. I think it’s the first in this tournament that the game was this tough, it was good for the crowd and I will give a lot of credit to Babar and Imam.
“If Malik [Shahzad catch] had been taken, it would have been easy for us. But when you give a chance to a mature batsman, it becomes difficult. Today Hashmat and I played really well, because we wanted 240 plus. But our fielding didn’t work today along with our seam bowling. I think on this kind of wicket, Rashid is difficult. That’s why we went with him, but they played very well.”
Sarfraz was relieved to have won, and said: “We were completely rocked by the end. Credit should go to Babar and Imam and we can’t praise Malik enough. Afghanistan batted very sensibly, and they have the best three spinners in the world. Especially on these pitches. Anyone who chases against them will have to do really well, and we did.
“Unfortunately Shadab failed the fitness test this morning and we were a bowler short, but the batting was strengthened. Once again, I can’t praise Malik enough. It wasn’t easy to chase 257 on this and the way Babar and Imam showed patience before Malik, it’ll give us a lot of confidence. After a long time, about 18 months, we had a terrible fielding day. We’ll have to address that.”
Malik was named Man of the Match, and said: “Well, being a senior player when you’ve played enough cricket, you know when you already have a start, the goal is to bat till the 50th over. That’s the only thing I had in mind. At one point the required rate was almost ten but I kept telling myself to bat till the end because we had batsmen to hit the big shots later.
“I think even the good bowlers, when they’re bowling in the middle overs, they are confident and want to get you out. But in the end, even they are on the back foot. As a batsman, you can show authority on them.
“I would like to congratulate them [Afghanistan] though, they have been improving every day.”