Pakistan 230 for 7 (Imad 49*, Babar 45, Nabi 2-23, Mujeeb 2-34) beat Afghanistan 227 for 9 (Asghar 42, Najibullah 42, Afridi 4-47, Wahab 2-29) by three wickets
Imad Wasim reaped the rewards for managing to scrape through a tough period of batting, hanging on till the end to feast on the nervous, generous medium pace of Gulbadin Naib as Pakistan kept their semi-final push well afloat with a three-wicket win at Headingley. Imad's unbeaten 49 and his crucial partnerships with Shadab Khan and Wahab Riaz saw Pakistan through their last 11 overs, a period where they had to contend with Afghanistan's spinners on a turning pitch and get more than run-a-ball with just four wickets in hand.
It seemed like neither team particularly made the extra push for control. Pakistan had Afghanistan 57 for 3 and resorted to defensive bowling. Afghanistan recovered only to hand the game back in two overs. And then, Pakistan replicated them in the chase until they looked down and out, staring at a shattering loss. Then they were handed 28 of the easiest runs over 10 balls from Naib, who went for 73 in 9.4 overs.
Watch on Hotstar (US only): Highlights of Pakistan's thrilling win against Afghanistan
This undid all the good work by their spin attack, which on the day had turned into a four-pronged one after seamer Hamid Hassan hobbled off early in the innings with an injury. Filling in for him was experienced allrounder Samiullah Shinwari, who last bowled for Afghanistan in March against Ireland.
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The conditions almost exclusively helped spinners, and Shinwari benefitted, much like Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Mohammed Nabi, and Rashid Khan had. His figures read a creditable 8-0-32-0. With 46 required off five overs and Imad struggling to pick the spinners, Gulbadin's decision to bowl himself over Shinwari cost them 18 in the 46th over.
Imad had his luck - he was deemed not out on an lbw call when on 1 with Afghanistan without a review, and a splice at extra cover was completely fluffed by a spinning Asghar Afghan off the second ball of the 46th over - and made use of it, picking up two more boundaries, before Wahab smote Rashid for a six and a four despite a hairline fracture on his right hand. By the time Naib returned for the last over, only six were required.
Pakistan's top order hadn't been particularly responsible about the way they set out to chase this target. Fakhar Zaman, trapped in front by a Mujeeb carrom ball, looked fairly certain he hadn't got an edge on the ball, but chose to review anyway. As early as the second ball of the innings, that loss of review set the tone: a little pressure, and Afghanistan could put Pakistan to the test.
Nabi's spell, arguably one of the best of the tournament, was built on this motif. As he has done notably for a while, Nabi used those old-school offbreak tools, dip and drift, to keep Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam planted in the crease and pushing with hard hands. That was until Imam could resist no longer and stepped out early to one that didn't drift and instead floated wide of him. He had no chance to come back in even as Ikram Alikhil took his time to gather and break the stumps.
Watch on Hotstar (India only): Highlights of Pakistan's last-over win against Afghanistan
If that was rash, then Babar's dismissal in Nabi's next was to top it. Having dragged Pakistan to a win against New Zealand in what he called his best innings, Babar was guilty of being over adventurous on Saturday. He chose to sweep a full, leg-stump ball and was, both, through it too quickly, and out of shape as Nabi bowled him around the legs.
Pakistan were forced into conservation, with Mohammed Hafeez and Haris Sohail in the middle with ideal games for such a strategy. Boundaries were only sought - and successfully - off the odd short balls handed to them, and all seemed well. That was until Hafeez added to his collection of ordinary shots against spin this tournament by chopping a short ball straight to backward point. Shortly after that, Sarfaraz Ahmed, who had already survived because of a dropped chance, ran himself out looking for a second run that wasn't there. But one captain's misdemeanour was eventually balanced out by the other's.
This was much the pattern through Afghanistan's innings as well. They were handed a rather gentle welcome when Pakistan, with three in-form fast bowlers, opened the bowling with Imad. Naib lapped it up, getting himself in with three boundaries, until Sarfaraz brought Shaheen Afridi into the attack. The impact went both ways. Shaheen's over went for 14, but he had Naib and Hashmatullah Shahidi caught off consecutive deliveries - off the outside edge and leading edge respectively.
Afghanistan have lost at least three wickets every time they have scored at close to five an over in the opening 15 overs in this tournament, and that was the case once again. A free-flowing Asghar took on Shadab and pretty much anyone who felt a sense of discipline bowling to the patient, watchful Alikhil at the other end.
It was Shadab who got him in the end, with a piece of ingenius strategy: he brought in a silly point and prompted Asghar, whose forward blocks are bottom-hand dominant, to step out and swing at him again. Only on this occasion the line was off stump, the pace was quicker than when he had hit him over midwicket, and the turn was minimal but just enough to hit off stump.
In the next over, Alikhil, who had played 65 balls for 24, went against his brief and holed out to long-on. Afghanistan's lower order, with some big hitters, was then forced to patch up the innings which was doomed to peter out into a middling 220s score. Nabi, Najibulah Zadran, and Shinwari all made it to points where they could have taken off, but then Afridi and Wahab were around to stop them every time they tried. It was perhaps the only sense of order in an otherwise chaotic display from both teams.