Saim Ayub, Ihsanullah sparkle for young Pakistan to avert Afghanistan whitewash
Shadab Khan contributes with bat and ball to lead his side to consolation win
Pakistan 182 for 7 (Ayub 49, Mujeeb 2-28) beat Afghanistan 116 all out (Shadab 3-13, Ihsanullah 3-29) by 66 runs
A much-improved batting performance and a typically clinical showing with the ball saw Pakistan avoid the ignominy of just a third T20I series whitewash, easing to victory over Afghanistan by 66 runs. Afghanistan were never in serious pursuit of the 182 Pakistan put up, crumbling to 116 all out in response.
Afghanistan won the toss, meaning Pakistan had to bat first for the third successive game, and the visitors soon ran into trouble in Sharjah, just as they had in the previous two games. The spin of Mujeeb-ur Rehman and Mohammad Nabi got rid of Mohammad Haris and Tayyab Tahir, but Saim Ayub and Abdullah Shafique struck back with a counterattacking partnership that swung the momentum Pakistan's way. The 20-ball 35-run stand set the template for Pakistan to continue attacking, with Saim, who fell just one short of a 50, forming the backbone for the best part of the innings.
Iftikhar Ahmed and Shadab Khan took over from there, going after each bowler as Afghanistan lost their discipline slightly. Seventy-four runs came off the final seven overs as Pakistan posted what was, by some distance, the highest total of the series.
Any realistic prospects of a successful chase depended heavily on Rahmanullah Gurbaz and a fast start, but Imad Wasim, Zaman Khan and Ihsanullah ensured it wouldn't be forthcoming. Debutant Sediqullah Atal limped to a 19-ball 11, while Ihsanullah cleaned up Gurbaz in the Powerplay. A brief stand between Mohammad Nabi and Usman Ghani aside, resistance was scarce, and once Ihsanullah returned, it was snuffed out. A wicket bouncer left Najibullah Zadran bleeding and retired hurt as Karim Janat was dismissed first ball, while a double-strike from Shadab - which included his 100th T20I wicket - ended any Afghan hopes for victory.
Saim, Shafique take Afghanistan on
When two wickets fell early, the pattern for another innings where Afghanistan stifled an inexperienced Pakistan batting line-up was set. But Saim, who has struggled this series, and Shafique who last scored a T20I run three years and five innings ago, opted for belligerence over caution. Saim clobbered Mujeeb over the on side to set the tone, while Shafique took on Fareed Ahmed in the final Powerplay over to propel Pakistan to 52, their highest six-over score of the series. Nabi received the same treatment from Shafique even after the Powerplay ended, and though Rashid Khan cleaned him up the following over, that brief passage of play had swung the contest Pakistan's way. There was even time to spoil an unbeaten 17.5 over boundary-less stint from Rashid, when Saim deposited a full toss from the legspinner over cow corner.
Shadab Khan's golden day out
Shadab hasn't had the best weekend, skippering Pakistan to their first international defeats against Afghanistan. Some of the captaincy decisions were questionable, and the call to bat first in the second game after Afghanistan had romped to an easy chase in the first drew considerable fire. It was all compounded by post-match remarks about missing Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan that can't have helped their young top-order replacements feel too flash about themselves.
But Monday brought one of those irresistible Shadab performances that throw into sharp relief what a phenomenal cricketer the he is. A valuable death-overs cameo that saw him smash a 17-ball 28 took Pakistan well above par on this surface, ensuring they carried the momentum with them at the changeover. He was equally impressive with ball in hand, too, there to strike the telling blows at different stages of the innings. Ibrahim Zadran was beaten in the flight in his first over, before a double-strike in his third put paid to Ghani and Mujeeb, giving him his 100th and 101st wickets in the process. His figures of 4-0-13-3 didn't flatter him in the least.
Ihsanullah brings the heat
Different Pakistani fast bowler, same intimidating results. Ihsanullah hit the heights that have almost become second nature to him over the past six weeks, but a microcosm of all that he brings to this side was on display in a scintillating 11th over. His pace well into the high 140s kph and the asking rate rising, a suicidal run brought about the run-out of Nabi, with new man Najibullah entering on strike. By now, Ihsanullah had begun to favour a shorter length and a devilish first ball had the batter fending at one that deflected off the bat straight into the unprotected jawline. The blood gushed as Najibullah was forced off, needing a concussion substitute in Azmatullah Omarzai. But Ihsanullah wasn't going to go soft. A similarly brutish delivery first up to Janat was spliced into the air for Haris to take a straightforward catch, before Rashid got out of the way of a 145kph bouncer. For now, it wasn't about run-scoring, but basic self-preservation.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000