It was a tricky match and an unpredictable Pakistan team overcame the loss in the previous match and some early jitters to beat a dangerous Afghanistan by three wickets in the Super Four stages of the Asia Cup in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
It was Shoaib Malik whose heroics made the win possible after a nerve-wracking fight with Afghanistan not letting up. Pakistan needed 18 in the last two overs and ten in the final.
Malik used all his experience and guile, kept his cool to dispatch a six off the second ball of the 50th over and then a boundary in his 43-ball 51 not out, hitting a six and three boundaries in a Dhoniesue finish.
Pakistan bowled and fielded poorly but sensible batting by Imam-ul-Haq (104-ball 80 with five boundaries and a six) who together with Babar Azam (94-ball 66 with four boundaries and a six) overcame a nervy start to a duanting 258-run target.
Imam, who failed against India, showed more grit and wisdom after losing his partner Fakhar Zaman off the sixth ball of the first over and found an able ally in Babar — the future of Pakistan’s batting.
There again came a nervy occasion when Imam (104-ball 80) and Baba Azam (104-ball 66)r were out within the space of four runs but Shoaib Malik.
It was a brilliant knock by Shahidi which lifted Afgahanistan to an imposing total. The manner in which the left-hander paced his innings was remarkable. He kept his end intact, reaching his fourth half century off 86 balls but then knocked the next 47 off just 32.
His fourth wicket stand with skipper Asghar Afghan which yeidled 94 set the platform as Afghanistan scored 87 in the last ten overs.
He was unlucky not to reach his maiden hundred as he smashed three consecutive boundaries but was beaten off the last ball, finishing on 118-ball 97.
While Afghanistan were wise and aggressive in their batting, Pakistan were sloppy in bowling as well as fielding, dropping as many ay four catches — three off the luckless debutant Shaheen Shah Afridi.
It was opener Ihsanullah Janat who benefitted twice on nine, first, let off by Fakhar Zaman and then by Usman Shinwari as Shaheen failed to get a wicket in his first spell. Shaheen had replaced experienced Mohammad Amir while Mohammad Nawaz and Haris Sohail also came in for injured Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf.
Asghar was dropped on 65 by Haris Sohail off Shaheen while Shahid was let off by Shaheen off Hasan Ali when the batsman was 52. Hasan also bowled the left-handed on 77 but umpires ruled it a no-ball.
The sloppiness will be enough for the new fielding coach Grant Bradburn to crack a whip sooner than later.
Finally, spinner Nawaz gave Pakistan three wickets to jolt Afghanistan. By that time Ihsanullah had put 63 for the third wicket with Shahidi. Nawaz finished with 3-57 in his ten overs.
Shaheen finished with figures of 2-38, which could have been better had fielders were not greasy fingered.
After a rest day on Saturday, Pakistan will now meet India in their second super four game on Sunday, when Bangladesh plays Afghanistan.