Pakistan snatched a nerve-wracking win against Afghanistan to keep their semi-finals hope alive. After Shaheen Afridi bagged four wickets to restrict Afghanistan to a modest total of 227, Imad Wasim played a much-needed cameo to carry the team over the line in the final over.
When the going gets tough, Pakistan gets going!
After the defeat against archrivals India, Pakistan team became the king of memes on social media. Saying that they were trolled heavily would be an understatement but the team remained unfazed and returned from the dead just when their most loyal fans were about to give up. There was a similar pattern to their run from the 2017 Champions Trophy.
It seems like defeat against India tends to infuse some kind of momentum in this Pakistani line-up. They went on to win the Champions Trophy title after being thrashed by India and have remained unbeaten in this tournament since that defeat at Old Trafford. With every game, they are only gaining momentum and the players are peaking at the right time. With Afridi being in top gear, their bowling looks complete while the top three have been churning out crucial runs.
Though there is an uncanny resemblance to their 1992 World Cup campaign, it will be interesting to see how far they can go in this tournament. For now, they have managed to remain alive in the tournament with three consecutive wins and provided other results go their way too, Pakistan can pose a serious threat. After the defeat against India, Pakistan faced an improbable task of winning all the remaining four games and have certainly ticked three boxes so far. Pressure seems to get the best out of them and their run so far would be an apt testament to it.
Fly, Afridi, fly!
He may not be practically flying but the kind of form Shaheen Afridi has been in, it’s no less than him flying high on confidence. After an impressive spell against New Zealand, the left-arm pacer only seems to be growing in confidence. With every outing, he is getting polished and has stepped up on the big occasion quite well under immense pressure. In fact, in two games back-to-back, Afridi’s brilliance has camouflaged the impact Mohammed Amir and Wahab Riaz have had.
Don’t let the baby face fool you, he is equally destructive with the leather in hand. Standing at 6ft 6 inch, Afridi has mastered the art of extracting help from the surface and has excellent control over the ball. He has the ingredients to go long way in international cricket and has raised high hopes in the handful of appearances at a tender age of 19. With time, one can only expect him to get better and sharper and develop into one of Pakistan’s primary weapons.
Against Afghanistan, he rocked them at the start with two back-to-back wickets and pushed them on the back foot. He hit the right areas looked for wickets, which was important as far as the intent was concerned. Pakistan skipper trusted him with the death overs and the wily pacer didn’t disappoint. He not only contained the flow of runs but also bagged two wickets to neutralise the threat. Pakistan are peaking at the right time and Afridi is gradually fulfilling the role that Hasan Ali did in 2017 Champions Trophy.
Did Afghanistan make a tactical error in the death?
Pakistan needed 46 runs off the last five overs and it didn’t require any rocket science to figure out the reason behind Afghanistan’s resurgence in this game. Their spinners pulled things back and all the four bowlers had been simply outstanding in tightening the noose around Pakistan while defending a modest target.
Pakistani batsmen looked unfazed by pace but spin was certainly keeping them on their toes. Though it was very courageous of the skipper Gulbadin Naib to take up the onus and put in the hard yards, the smart thing here would have been to get a spinner into the attack. Gulbadin erred in length and failed to put any pressure with the ball. He didn’t bowl to the field and ended up conceding 18 crucial runs under such a delicate situation.
His over turned the game on its head and the momentum quickly shifted in Pakistan’s favour and they hardly let it slipped away from there on. It’s not that a spinner would have won them the game at that juncture, but he would have definitely had more impact. Eventually, Samiullah Shinwari wasn’t utilised to the full and his two overs went in vain on a surface, where spinners were having a good time.
At times, teams do need to go against the convention and can afford to bowl out a spinner in the death if the surface allows him to do so. Afghanistan had nothing to lose here, they could have gambled with a spinner ahead of Naib and probably the result would have been different.
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