With 24 needed from 12 balls, Asif hit four sixes off Janat in the 19th over to win it
Pakistan 148 for 5 (Babar 51, Asif 25*, Rashid 2-26) beat Afghanistan 147 for 6 (Naib 35*, Imad 2-25) by five wickets
It was as loud as it was tense off the field with scenes of stampede outside the stadium when trying to keep out ticketless fans reminiscent of the rioting during the 2019 World Cup match at Headingley between these two sides. On the field, Afghanistan made all the running, be it a frenetic start, the slowdown to avoid getting bowled out, the finishing quick, the Mujeeb Ur Rahman attack first up, the holding back of Rashid, the Naveen-ul-Haq 18th over to create pressure.
Pakistan kept absorbing the blows before Asif struck the deciding ones in the 19th over. With one whole bowler’s quote to be made up of Karim Janat and Gulbadin Naib, who didn’t bowl on the night, Afghanistan just had too few to defend in 147.
The start was pure no-holds-barred manic Twenty20 energy. Three batters’ first scoring shots in the powerplay were sixes. Haris Rauf bowled the joint-fastest ball of the Super 12s stage. Shaheen Afridi didn’t get a wicket in the first over, but got one in his second. Imad Wasim took out a left-hand batter in his first and got carted two right-hand batters in his second. All told Afghanistan were 49 for 4 after the powerplay.
It didn’t stop there. After a couple of overs’ lull, Najibullah Zadran reverse-swept Shadab Khan for four followed by a four and six off him in his coming overs. In between Imad got Janat. Shadab’s response to the six was the perfect wrong’un to take Najib’s edge and make it 70 for 6 in the 13th over.
The Nabi-Naib show
By the time Najibullah got out, Mohammad Nabi scored just five off 12. He would continue going slow to 20 off 23 at the start of the death overs. They knew they had lost too many wickets up front, and now needed wickets in hand if they were going to get big runs in the back four. Rauf conceded just three in the 17th. In the 18th, though, Nabi exploited the short leg-side boundary to take down Hasan Ali and then capitalised on a couple of errors from Rauf. Forty-six off the last four gave Afghanistan something to work with.
Mujeeb ties Pakistan down
That something became more substantial as Mujeeb started off superbly with his variations and accuracy, bowling four overs on the trot for 14 runs and the wicket of Mohammad Rizwan. By the time Mujeeb was done, Pakistan were just 44 for 1 in seven overs.
Holding Rashid back
Afghanistan could have bowled an over of Rashid here looking for a wicket but they put all eggs in his basket by trying to bowl medium pace in the next three overs. This is when Babar, stuck on 11 off 17, found some momentum and got to a run a ball. When Rashid was finally brought on, Pakistan needed 76 off 10 overs with nine wickets in hand.
Rashid turns it around
It is a matter of magic that with such an easy equation, with dew expected, with a few indifferent overs in the bag to capitalise on, Rashid still managed to create panic. In his first two overs, he drew nine false responses. At the other end, Fakhar Zaman got out looking to make up for the quiet at Rashid’s end. Babar failed to pick which way Rashid was turning it. He barely survived the wrong’uns and the edge off the legbreak went wide of slip. Mohammad Hafeez was not so lucky, holing out to long-on. Thirty-eight required off last four.
The end game
Afghanistan now had a choice to bowl Naveen in the 17th and 19th overs so that their weakest bowler, Janat, is used only in the 20th, but they went ahead with Rashid in the 17th. Shoaib Malik eased all the pressure with a six second ball, but Babar still played panic-stricken shots without knowing which way the ball was turning. He was dropped first ball, but was out bowled last ball of the over.
Naveen backed it up with a composed over in which a slower ball bamboozled Malik and the quicker one got him out. Shadab wanted to steal a single last ball of the over, but Asif wasn’t even looking at him. Time for dealing in quick singles was over.
It was now time to exploit Afghanistan’s weakest bowler and the short leg-side boundary. First ball he went deep into the crease to convert the yorker into a half-volley and go miles over long-off. Next one was a perfect yorker. The third one was short, and he pulled it for a flat small six. Next one again a perfect yorker. The last two, though, missed the length and Asif ended the game.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo