Afghanistan 286 for 2 (Ibrahim 87, Rahmat 77*, Gurbaz 65, Shahidi 48*, Hasan 1-41) beat Pakistan 282 for 7 (Babar 74, Shafique 58, Noor 3-49, Naveen 2-52) by eight wickets
8-0 or 7-1? Nah, we are not talking about that one. Coming into their fifth game of the 2023 World Cup, Afghanistan had not beaten Pakistan in an ODI in seven attempts. They had run them close on at least two occasions but had to suffer one heartbreak after another.
But on probably the biggest stage of them all, Afghanistan finally managed to break the hoodoo. And they did it, in Chennai, by eight wickets chasing down 283 with six balls to spare, crafting their highest successful chase in ODIs in the process. A ‘W’ against Pakistan finally, and 1-7, too. It was also the highest successful chase against Pakistan in a World Cup game.
Should it count as an upset? Maybe not after what Afghanistan did to England, not after the clinical manner in which they chased down the target on Monday to move to sixth position on the table.
Batting first on a surface that didn’t have a blade of grass, Babar Azam had no hesitation in batting first. Babar and Abdullah Shafique’s fifties backed up by excellent cameos from Iftikhar Ahmed and Shadab Khan helped Pakistan post a formidable 282 for 7.
In reply, Afghanistan were switched on like men on a mission. Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran posted a 130-run stand for the opening wicket, with both batters scoring fifties. Once they exited, it was the turn for Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi to shepherd the chase and close it in 49 overs.
Afghanistan’s chase started on a perfect note with Gurbaz picking Shaheen Shah Afridi to the fine-leg boundary and Ibrahim driving Afridi through the covers three balls later. While Ibrahim took Hasan Ali to the cleaners, Gurbaz targeted Haris Rauf, smashing him for four fours in his opening over as Afghanistan raced to 60 after nine.
While the boundary-scoring was impeccable, their running between the wickets was even better. They were also helped by Pakistan’s sloppy fielding – they were all over the place.
It took Afghanistan just 15.3 overs to breach the 100-run mark. By that time, both Ibrahim and Gurbaz had brought up their fifties. Pakistan’s firstr wicket only came in the 22nd over, when Afridi induced a top edge off Gurbaz’s blade that was snapped up by deep third.
No panic stations, though. Rahmat came in, and immediately got to work in his usual industrious style. Whenever there were a string of dot balls, Ibrahim or Rahmat broke the shackles with a boundary. They added 60 off 74 for the second wicket before Ibrahim, struggling with cramps, edged Hasan behind for 87.
Any thoughts of a collapse, or even a couple of quick wickets, were quickly shut down by Shahidi and Rahmat. They added 96 unbeaten runs for the third wicket, not once giving Pakistan a sniff. The calmness with which they went about their work was probably the most striking feature of the chase.
And Pakistan looked toothless for most of the chase, the bowlers hardly getting anything out of the surface.
While Rahmat with five fours and a six remained unbeaten on 77, Shahidi scored a 45-ball 48*. It was the captain who hit the winning runs, a pull/flick off Afridi to spark emotional scenes in the dugout.
The first innings was one of three chunks: Pakistan dominated the first 15 overs; Afghanistan spinners had a stranglehold on the proceedings for the next 25; Pakistan pumped 91 runs in the last ten. And that seemed to have given them the momentum heading into the break.
The pitch in Chennai was the same one used for India’s opening game against Australia, so Afghanistan brought in Noor Ahmad for Fazalhaq Farooqi to make it four spinners in their XI. The move, at least for the first 15 overs, seemed to have backfired.
Pakistan moved to 56 for no loss in the first ten overs, the best powerplay they have had in ten innings at the World Cup. There was another first – and second – that took place in these ten overs: Abdullah Shafique hit two sixes. The first was Pakistan’s first after 1169 balls in powerplays this year.
Pakistan had actually raced to their 50 in 7.4 overs with Naveen-ul-Haq and Mujeeb Ur Rahman both leaking runs. At this stage, Shahidi turned to Mohammad Nabi and the veteran, through his effective variations of pace and length, put a hold on the run-scoring. Azmatullah Omarzai benefited from this at the other end when Imam-ul-Haq miscued a pull to short midwicket.
Babar and Shafique took the innings forward with Shafique soon reaching his second successive fifty, off 60 balls. However, once the ball got a bit older, and the surface a tad tired, it started playing a few more tricks. Between the 16th and the 31st overs, Pakistan could only manage two fours and a six and scored 61 runs while losing two key wickets. Noor struck both the telling blows.
He first took out Shafique lbw with a wrong’un and then removed Mohammad Rizwan. Babar took 69 balls to reach his fifty before falling to Noor for 74.
At 206 for 5 at the end of 42 overs, Pakistan seemed to be falling short of a par score. But Iftikhar and Shadab changed the script. The two added 73 off just 45 balls, taking apart what was a poor show at the death by the Afghanistan bowlers.
In the end, though, the batters came through.