In a dramatic finish in Sharjah, No.10 batter Naseem Shah slammed two sixes off the first two balls of the final over to seal Pakistan a win against Afghanistan in the Asia Cup.
For the third time in four games, Afghanistan’s openers started off all guns blazing, with Rahmanullah Gurbaz leading the charge. Wayward lines from Mohammad Hasnain in the second over saw Gurbaz capitalise and hit him for back-to-back sixes to end the over.
Pakistan countered Gurbaz with more pace, this time in the form of Haris Rauf. Hazratullah Zazai took him on for two fours, but he was saved by a tough dropped chance from Naseem Shah while attempting another big heave. Rauf, however, found success at the other end with the big wicket of Gurbaz, cleaning him up with a delivery angling into the right-hander.
After attacking Afghanistan with extreme pace early on, Pakistan resorted to the spin duo of Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan to tie them down in the middle overs. The plot worked as Afghanistan batters struggled to score with little pace on the ball.
Nawaz bowled his four overs on the trot, sending back Karim Janat for 15, while Shadab dismissed the dangerous Najibullah Zadran for 10.
Naseem Shah, meanwhile, returned to the attack and sent back skipper Mohammad Nabi, playing his 100th T20I, for a golden duck. Ibrahim Zadran fought for Afghanistan with a hard-working 35 but eventually edged one off the impressive Rauf to depart in the 17th over.
Some lusty blows late in the game from Rashid Khan gave Afghanistan something to cheer about, but a total of 129 wasn’t something to write home about.
In two of the three matches in the Asia Cup, Afghanistan had struck with a wicket inside the first two overs – snaring three against Sri Lanka in the opening game and one against Bangladesh in their second game.
Here again, they found a way to apply early pressure as Fazalhaq Farooqi sent back skipper Babar Azam for a golden duck. Fakhar Zaman was run out by a brilliant direct hit in the fourth over, and Pakistan sunk further.
Mohammad Rizwan and Iftikhar Ahmed rebuilt, but Rashid Khan took out Rizwan soon after the Powerplay to leave Pakistan in a spot of bother at 45/3.
Afghanistan went on take wickets at regular intervals to push Pakistan out of the game. The promising stand between Iftikhar and Shadab was broken and the likes of Nawaz and Asif Ali failed to deliver as Afghanistan seemed to be cruising to a win.
The wicket of Asif Ali in the penultimate over appeared to be the final nail in the coffin as Pakistan needed 12 runs off 7 balls from thereon.
But a dramatic turnaround saw Naseem Shah blast a six off the first two balls of the final over from Fazalhaq Farooqi, Afghanistan’s most impressive bowler of the night. The back-to-back sixes ensured Pakistan’s come-from-behind win, but also signalled the end of India and Afghanistan in the tournament.
India’s have lost both their Super Four stage matches, meaning that they were reliant on Afghanistan to beat Pakistan to stay alive in the tournament. Afghanistan, which lost their first game of the Super Four phase to Sri Lanka, also needed a win to keep their chances of making the Asia Cup final still burning.
They were pretty close to sealing a win with an impressive bowling performance, but unlikely hero Naseem snatched victory for Pakistan from the jaws of defeat. India and Afghanistan are out of the tournament after Pakistan’s win.