Afghanistan 263 for 7 (Shahidi 74, Wahab 3-46) beat Pakistan 262 all out (Babar 112, Nabi 3-46) by three wickets
The positives in defeat Pakistan appeared so intent of drawing – following the series against England – have all but fizzled out in an embarrassing performance in Bristol, with Afghanistan wrapping up a comfortable three-wicket win against their neighbours.
Bowled out for 262 in the first warm-up game of the World Cup, after the captain Sarfaraz Ahmed decided to bat, they came up against a sizzling Hazratullah Zazai, who scorched Pakistan with a 28-ball 49 in the first Powerplay. From that point on, the asking rate was always in control, and in Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afghanistan had a batsman with the temperament to see his side through, finishing unbeaten on 74, completely unperturbed by a strike rate of 72.
It really is hard to overstate how much mental damage this would do to Pakistan. This may not be an official ODI, but in many ways is more important than the 10 they’ve lost on the trot. Against England, whatever happened, they could come away believing the hosts were of course on another level – which they are. Against Australia in the UAE, they were resting half their side. Against Afghanistan, a week before their World Cup starts, no explanation is likely to wash.
Pakistan looked out of sorts almost from the first delivery. The partnership between Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq at the top only lasted because of Afghanistan’s generosity in the field, the pair were reprieved at least four times – three dropped catches and a stumping. When Hamid Hassan finally struck, it heralded a regular supply of wickets to the bowling side, with only Babar Azam putting up any sort of resistance that Mickey Arthur and his men will look back at fondly.
Mohammad Nabi got rid of Zaman and Haris Sohail in the same over with beautifully flighted offspin, suggesting this tournament may not just be about how fast any team’s quick bowlers are. Aware this was a cracker of a pitch for batting, even the quicks took the pace of the ball, denying Pakistan the ability to use the pace and score behind the wicket, and no batsman other than Babar was able to rotate the strike successfully.
The lower order’s failure to kick on in the final 15 overs only highlighted the importance of Asif Ali to the side, and cast under severe scrutiny the logic of leaving him out of the preliminary squad in April. Today, his unavailability owing to the death of his daughter meant Pakistan struggled to find a man able to fill his shoes, with the next-best alternative Imad Wasim never really hitting his straps. In the end, even Babar Azam holed out after reaching a hundred, and in the frantic scramble for a big finish, Pakistan forgot the golden rule of ODI cricket: bat out the overs. They were dismissed for 262 in a game they had specifically chosen to bat first in to showcase the aggression they possessed in that department.
Afghanistan immediately seized momentum after Hazratullah Zazai took Shaheen Afridi to task, scorching five boundaries off one over from the teenager, and summarily dismissing him when he approached the batsman to coyly attempt a sledge. Even when his more celebrated partner, Mohammad Shahzad, retired hurt because of what looked like a cramp, Zazai continued to take the Pakistan quicks to task, focusing his attention on Wahab Riaz soon after; that particular over would yield 18.
It was Shadab Khan, not introduced till after the Powerplay that he would depart, lofting the spinner’s first ball to cow corner, where Shoaib Malik took a smart catch. They might have crumbled at that point, but this isn’t the Afghanistan side that used to be grateful merely to be allowed to compete; they’re here to win. Rehmat Shah and Samiullah Shenwari kept Shahidi company, but the last three-quarters of the innings was all about the left-hander. He has previous against Pakistan; he struck an unbeaten 97 against them at the Asia Cup, and here, too, Pakistan found no way of going through his defences.
He understood the value of his wicket, and never panicked even when the balls began to close in on the runs required. The odd boundary always relieved the pressure, and when, three overs from the close,m Wahab Riaz came in to send the jitters through them and their fans, it was only Shahidi who kept Afghanistan from crumbling in the face of his sustained brilliance. Rashid Khan at the other end rode his luck and put Shahidi on strike with one run left, and appropriately, Shahidi was on hand to ease the ball to third man.
With minimum fuss, Pakistan had been put away. Afghanistan can look ahead to a World Cup that brims with promise, while the soul-searching in Pakistan’s dressing room will intensify before the first competitive ball is even bowled.