Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal (L) and Anwar Ali celebrate the dismissal of Afghanistan’s Nawroz Mangal during the Asia Cup match in Fatullah, Bangladesh. (AP Photo)
Prior to their Asia Cup clash, Afghanistan were done with their warm-up about half an hour before Pakistan did. It was a welcome sign, a display of confidence, from a team that hardly plays the big boys.
Afghanistan had reasons to be assured. The team was in the tournament only because of a last minute entry given by the Asian Cricket Council owing to their consistent performances against the associates. It was a major boost for the team that was accorded ODI status in 2009.
Through various phases of the game, the Afghans threatened to embarrass Pakistan and justify their recent promotions. It was however in the critical moments the team slipped up.
With a little more experience against the top sides, the bulls-eye could perhaps be struck more often. On Thursday, the strikes were inconsistent as Afghanistan fell to a 72-run defeat.
Pacers Shapoor and Dawlat Zadran bowled with great intensity. The pressure was built by the generously flighted left-arm spin of Humza Hotak and the accurate medium-pace of Mirwais Ashraf.
With Ashraf's ball holding its line at just short of good length, he was difficult to get away. Samiullah Shenwari purchased distinct turn and made immediate inroads to put Pakistan on the mat. At 117 for six, Pakistan would have been reminded of their defeat to Ireland in the 2007 World Cup.
Then came Afghanistan's first major lapse. Umar Akmal, the last recognised batsman, skied a Shapoor delivery. With Akmal on 28 and Pakistan on 146 for six, Shenwari dropped the catch.
Akmal counter-attacked. Under the pump, the Afghan bowlers ran out of ideas.
Brief scores Pakistan 248-8 (U Akmal 102 not out, A Shehzad 50; M Ashraf 2-29), beat Afghanistan 176 in 47.2 overs (NA Zadran 44, Md Hafeez 3-29)
Commentary, Afghanistan Innings:
Commentary, Pakistan Innings: