DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Amid unbearable tension and a cacophony of noise, Afghanistan’s players were in sight of the biggest win in their country’s cricketing history.
With four aggressive strikes, Asif Ali took it away from them.
Pakistan’s power hitter smashed four sixes in the next-to-last over of a thrilling match at Dubai International Stadium to seal a five-wicket win over its plucky neighbor on Friday.
“The boundary was small from this end so I told my partner I’d go for it,” Asif said. “Thank God we pulled it off.”
Set 148 to win, Pakistan appeared to be timing its chase to perfection, only to lose key batters Babar Azam (51) and Shoaib Malik (19) in the space of six balls and find itself needing 24 runs with two overs remaining.
They all came in one blazing six-ball spell that evoked memories of Carlos Braithwaite’s four straight sixes to seal the West Indies’ win over England in the 2016 final.
Taking on the medium pace of Karim Janat, Asif cleared the long-off boundary off the first ball, the midwicket boundary off the third ball and powered another six down the ground off the fifth ball.
With the six runs still needed to win, Asif gave himself room and crunched Janat’s sixth ball for six over extra cover to clinch a third straight win in the Super 12s for Pakistan, which had already dispatched India and New Zealand.
Asif finished on 25 not out off just seven balls and his team is now a big favorite to be one of the two semifinalists to come from Group 2, with Pakistan’s remaining games against qualifiers Namibia and Scotland.
Afghanistan fell to its first loss of the tournament after opening with a win over Scotland, narrowly failing to secure what would have been a memorable victory at a time of uncertainty back home following the Taliban’s takeover of the country in August.
Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi said this week “the only happiness in Afghanistan is cricket.” Star legspinner Rashid Khan said his team just wanted to put smiles on the faces of people back home.
They will have done that, even in this agonizing defeat.
“Asif Ali played that 19th over really well,” Nabi said. “There are many positives to take from this. We fought to the end and it’s given me more motivation to win games.”
The match began while swathes of fans outside the stadium were seen running toward the entrances. Those already inside had queued for hours and they generated a stunning atmosphere in a ground awash with color and energy.
Afghanistan recovered from slumping to 39-4 after 5.1 overs to post 147-6, mainly thanks to an unbeaten 71-run partnership — off 48 deliveries — between Nabi and Gulbadin Naib, who both finished on 35.
Shadab Khan and Shah Afridi were the best of the Pakistani bowlers, having figures of 1-22 off their four overs.
Perhaps bettering them were Afghanistan spinners Mujeeb Ur Rahman (1-14) and Rashid Khan, who only came into the attack after 10 overs but had figures of 2-26 and bowled the dangerous Babar off the last ball of his spell to leave Afghanistan in with a chance.
Asif had other ideas.
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