Pakistan 302 for 9 (Imam 91, Babar 53, Shadab 48, Farooqi 3-69) beaten Afghanistan 300 for 5 (Gurbaz 151, Zadran 80, Shaheen 2-58) by one wicket
Pakistan won an epic final thriller against Afghanistan to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the ODI series, at Hambantota on Thursday. Chasing 301, Pakistan somehow narrowly escaped defeat and kept their ODI unbeaten record against the hosts intact, having recorded their sixth victory in as many games.
Imam, Babar and Shadab shine
Pakistan recovered well after losing Fakhar Zaman early on, with Imam-ul-Haq leading with 91 and sharing a century position with Babar Azam for the second wicket. Imam looked like the most comfortable hitter in the lineup, hitting mostly ones and twos. His 105-ball shot had only four fours, but kept Pakistan’s required run rate in check. Babar, who was out in Game 1, played a regular 53. But his wicket against Farooqi in the 31st opened the doors and offered Afghanistan a way back.
Pakistan lost three key wickets for three runs from ten balls. Mohammed Nabi struck twice in the 38th to dismiss Agha Salma and Usama Mir, who were promoted ahead of Shadab and Iftkhar Ahmed. Mujeeb Ur Rahman then got the big Imam wicket in the next round, with the equation dropping to 56 from 30 balls.
The game was always balanced. Although Pakistan lost Iftikhar and Shaheen Afridi in the 47th and 48th respectively, Shadab continued to attack, blazing three fours and a six in his 35 ball innings. His appearance was crucial in Pakistan, bringing the equation down to 11 points in the final and chasing the big tally. It also earned him the Player of the Match award.
Gurbaz and Zadran bring Afghanistan to 300
Two days ago, Afghanistan came up short in a chase of 202 and recorded their second-lowest ODI tally. But on Thursday, two determined 21-year-olds, born just weeks apart, propelled Afghanistan to their highest ODI tally against Pakistan.
The openers played nearly 40 overs and scored at a brisk pace on a rebounding grass-covered surface. It was also a different track than the first ODI which assisted the spinners. Gurbaz and Zadran’s huge opening stand extended to 227 and was finally broken by legpinner Usama Mir when the former retired all the way. At that time, Afghanistan had reached the normal score.
Gurbaz, who had expressed his intention from the start by running the track against the tide, regularly found limits to reach fifty in 72 deliveries. Despite some pain in his left forearm, Gurbaz went on and scored his fifth ODI cent from 122 balls. His best over of the set came against Rauf, the bowler who rocked Afghanistan with five wickets in the opener, in the 37th when he hailed the point guard with four consecutive fours.
On the other hand, Zadran started his innings quietly but continued to play as the innings progressed. He took 71 balls to reach his fourth ODI fifty, in the 30th. Playing in his 16th ODI, he crossed 50 for the eighth time on Thursday, showing the temper of the 50 over format. On his 101-ball shot, Zadran hit six fours and two sixes.
For Pakistan, their short-ball tactic proved futile against openers who either grounded or moved wide to cross the boundary. Afridi came back in the 45th to knock out Gurbaz and Rashid Khan, but it was too late for a Pakistani turnover. Naseem was also in the wicket chart with Nabi’s dismissal in the final, but neither spinners nor setters could break the Afghan spirit early in the inning.
However, the spirit of Afghanistan will eventually break in the end.
Srinidhi Ramanujam is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo