Pakistan put one foot in the semi-finals of the Twenty20 World Cup after Asif Ali’s scintillating power-hitting secured their nervy five-wicket victory against Afghanistan in the Super 12 stage of the tournament on Friday.
The 2009 champions restricted neighbours Afghanistan to a modest 147-6 in a match between the top two teams in Group II at Dubai International Stadium.
Skipper Babar Azam anchored Pakistan’s chase with a fluent 51 but it was Asif who smashed four sixes in the penultimate over from Karim Janat to clinch the see-saw contest with six balls to spare.
Having beaten India and New Zealand in their first two matches, Pakistan are effectively in the last four with clashes against minnows Namibia and Scotland remaining.
“Afghanistan have some of the best spinners, they were getting a lot of help and bowling really well,” Babar said.
“I wanted to stay till the end but got out unfortunately. So credit to Asif Ali.
“Asif has played many such innings at the Pakistan Super League. I was very confident he’d get us out of any trouble,” Babar added.
Earlier, Pakistan pacer Shaheen Afridi repeatedly hit Hazratullah Zazai’s pad after Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi elected to bat.
Pakistan blew a review trying to get Zazai lbw but went on to wreck Afghanistan’s top order to reduce them to 39-4 in the sixth over.
Haris Rauf took a brilliant tumbling catch in the second over to send back Zazai and then caught Asghar Afghan off his own bowling.
Rahmanullah Gurbaz nearly ran himself out after a mix-up with Afghan but could not capitalise on the reprieve and Afghanistan lost the top half of their batting order even before the halfway stage of their innings.
Nabi and Gulbadan Naib came to Afghanistan’s rescue striking identical unbeaten 35s to lend some respectability to their total.
“We didn’t start really well, the total on the board was decent but maybe not enough,” Nabi said after their first loss of the tournament.
“There are many positives to take from this match. We fought to the end and it’s given us more motivation to win games.”
Pakistan lost Mohammed Rizwan early in their reply but Babar and Fakhar Zaman (30) combined to shave off half the target.
Babar, then on 36, was adjudged lbw to Rashid Khan but the Pakistan skipper successfully reviewed the decision which was overturned.
Fakhar was not so lucky and fell lbw to Nabi in the next over blowing a review in his bid to prolong his stay.
Rashid (2-26) dismissed Mohammad Hafeez and Babar to inject fresh drama into the contest but the Afghans, who dropped two late catches, failed to ramp up pressure.
Pakistan needed 24 runs off the last two overs and Asif sealed the victory with an incendiary 25 not out off just seven balls, which also earned him the man-of-the-match award.
More than 1000 ticketless Afghan fans tried to forcibly enter the stadium for the match and were thwarted by the local police.