Pakistan's all-round might proved too much for Afghanistan's carefree spirit, as Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan and Imran Farhat set up an emphatic win with 77 balls to spare. But the scorecard couldn't do justice to the show that Afghanistan put up. Presented with the opportunity of playing a Full Member, Afghanistan could have either been consumed by the occasion and allowed Pakistan to brush them away, or have thrown foolhardy punches in all directions, in hope rather than conviction. That they found a middle ground and competed for a large portion of the game justified the awed tones with which people have been speaking about their rapid rise.
Years from now, when no one will recall the result of this game, one image will endure. Saeed Ajmal, Man of the Series from the Test series against England, was forced into an early spell after Pakistan's new-ball bowlers were battered by Karim 'Kabul ka Sehwag' Sadiq and Mohammad Shahzad. To Ajmal's third ball, the portly Shahzad calmly reversed his stance and heaved a flighted offbreak a good 20 yards into the stands behind square leg. It was just one shot, but it came against the bowler who had looped circles around England's celebrated top order through six innings of tortuous Test batting. It was a statement as telling as any - Misbah-ul-Haq smiled wryly into the distance as the ball disappeared. Afghanistan weren't bothered by reputations, and their top-order batsmen were intent on announcing themselves to the world.
The fun began early, when Umar Gul strayed into Sadiq's pads in the first over. Sadiq thumped the flick with a violence that was a sign of things to come. He would later prance out to Wahab Riaz and butcher a length ball over mid-off. Noor Ali Zadran perished at the other end, but Sadiq didn't seem to notice - he waited in the crease and launched a Gul slower ball for his first six. Gul wisely shelved the slower ball after that. Shahzad warmed up by flicking, carving and lofting Riaz for successive fours before producing that six against Ajmal. If there ever was a shot that gave the crowd its money's worth, this was it.
It took Pakistan a moment of athletic brilliance to stop Afghanistan's rampant progress. Shahzad opened up the off side and looked to cream Afridi's second ball over point, but Asad Shafiq leapt up and snatched it with one hand when he was at full stretch. The catch was so extraordinary, that even Afridi deigned to leave the spotlight on the fielder, as he refrained from his characteristic X-man celebrations.
Afridi's variations of spin and pace - one of his balls clocked 131 kph - gradually unravelled Afghanistan's innings. Nawroz Mangal missed a slog to lose his stumps, before Sadiq - who had carted Mohammad Hafeez for another towering six - edged a wide delivery behind. The run-rate had fallen considerably by the time Afridi fizzed a googly in to catch the debutant Gulbodin Naib plumb.
Despite the damage, Mohammad Nabi teed off over long-on for the fourth six of the innings, suggesting that minor inconveniences such as wickets weren't going to come in the way of fun. He later repeated the dose against Shoaib Malik as Afghanistan continued to keep the raucous supporters entertained.
The reverse sweep continued to be the Afghan stroke of choice: Samiullah Shenwari nearly reverse-slapped Shoaib Malik over the backward point boundary even as he fell over. Given how badly conventional methods deserted them in the Tests, England's batsmen might be tempted to try the stroke in the limited-overs series.
A run-out ended the partnership when it was worth 46, and Afghanistan's fight gradually fizzled thereafter as they folded under 200. But their spirit was far from extinguished.
It was easy to make out that Afghanistan's new-ball bowlers - the Zadrans, Shapoor and Dawlat - weren't related. Shapoor, a tall, long-haired left-armer, chugged in to capitalise on the nagging angle across the right-hand batsmen. Dawlat, a shorter right-arm seamer, displayed the tendency to skid through at pace, a bit like Waqar Younis, to expose flaws in the techniques of Pakistan's top three. With his 12th delivery to Mohammad Hafeez, Dawlat induced him to hop in the crease and edge onto the stumps. Later in his spell, he trapped the aggressive Shafiq when the batsman played all over a pacy indipper.
Farhat began scratchily, mistiming quite a few in the early overs before easing into some sort of fluency. He settled down once the pace dropped, preying on Mirwais Ashraf's medium-pace, Karim Sadiq's part-time offbreaks, and debutant Hamza Hotak's left-arm spin for boundaries. Three successive fours off Hotak took him past fifty.
Shamiullah Shenwari dismissed Farhat with a soft return catch in his first over, but Younis and Misbah produced three fours off the next four balls to restate Pakistan's control. Gradually, Pakistan's obdurate old men turned the heat on with a series of telling drives, as the target was achieved on the double. It was fitting that Misbah scored the winning runs with a reverse-sweep, sealing a seven-wicket triumph. But to focus on the result at this momentous juncture in the Afghanistan journey would be to miss the point completely.