Pakistan 302 for 9 (Imam 91, Babar 53, Shadab 48, Farooqi 3-69) beat Afghanistan 300 for 5 (Gurbaz 151, Zadran 80, Shaheen 2-58) by one wicket
Pakistan clinched an epic last-over thriller against Afghanistan to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the ODI series, in Hambantota on Thursday. Chasing 301, Pakistan, somehow, narrowly escaped a defeat and kept their unbeaten ODI record intact against the hosts, having registered their sixth win in as many games.
Imam, Babar and Shadab shine
Pakistan recovered well after losing Fakhar Zaman early, with Imam-ul-Haq top-scoring with 91 and sharing a century stand with Babar Azam for the second wicket. Imam looked like the most comfortable batter in the line-up, ticking along by mostly running ones and twos. His 105-ball knock had just four fours, but kept Pakistan’s required run-rate under control. Babar, who was out for duck in the first game, played a steady 53. But his wicket off Farooqi in the 31st over opened the gates and offered Afghanistan a way back.
Pakistan lost three key wickets for three runs inside ten balls. Mohammed Nabi struck twice in the 38th over to dismiss Agha Salma and Usama Mir, who was promoted up ahead of Shadab and Iftkhar Ahmed. Mujeeb Ur Rahman then got the big wicket of Imam in the next over with the equation coming down to 56 from 30 balls.
The game was still evenly poised. Though Pakistan lost Iftikhar and Shaheen Afridi in the 47th and 48th over respectively, Shadab kept attacking, blazing three fours and a six in his 35-ball innings. His cameo was crucial in Pakistan bringing the equation down to 11 off the final over and chasing down the big total. It also earned him the Player-of-the-Match award.
Gurbaz, Zadran power Afghanistan to 300
Two days ago, Afghanistan faltered in a chase of 202 and registered their second-lowest total in ODIs. But on Thursday, two determined 21-year-olds born a few weeks apart, powered Afghanistan to their highest ODI total against Pakistan.
The openers played out almost 40 overs and scored at a brisk rate on a surface covered with grass and offering bounce. It was also a different track than the one for the first ODI that assisted spinners. Gurbaz and Zadran’s massive opening stand extended to 227 and was finally broken by legspinner Usama Mir when the former holed out to long-off. By that time, Afghanistan had touched the par score.
Gurbaz, who expressed his intent from the beginning by coming down the track against the pace, found boundaries regularly to reach fifty in 72 deliveries. Despite experiencing some pain in his left forearm, Gurbaz kept going and brought up his fifth ODI hundred in 122 balls. His best over of the innings came against Rauf, the bowler who rattled Afghanistan with five wickets in the opening game, in the 37th over when he greeted the pacer with four back-to-back fours.
On the other hand, Zadran kick-started his innings quietly but got on with the act as the innings progressed. He took 71 balls to reach his fourth ODI fifty, in the 30th over. Playing in his 16th ODI, he crossed 50 for the eighth time on Thursday, showing the temperament for the 50-over format. In his 101-ball knock, Zadran hit six fours and two sixes.
For Pakistan, their short-ball tactic proved futile against the openers who either played it down the ground or pulled away for boundaries. Afridi came back in the 45th over to remove Gurbaz and Rashid Khan, but it was too late for a Pakistan turnaround. Naseem was also in the wicket chart with a dismissal of Nabi in the final over, but neither the spinners nor seamers could break the Afghanistan spirit early in the innings.
Afghanistan’s spirit, however, would eventually break at the end.
Srinidhi Ramanujam is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo