With 46 runs needed to win off 30 balls with just four wickets in hand, the dream of a World Cup semifinal seemed like slipping away from Pakistan before Afghanistan skipper Gulbadin Naib decided to take the ball in his hands for the 46th over.
All-rounder Imad Wasim was present to turn the tide in Pakistan’s favour in this roller-coaster of a tie. Wasim remained unbeaten on 49 off 54 balls as Pakistan managed to squeeze home for a three-wicket win over neighbours Afghanistan with two balls to spare.
The fourth win of the tournament took Pakistan to nine points from eight games and with one more tie remaining against Bangladesh on Friday, the 1992 World Cup champions are still alive and kicking in the tournament.
Three boundaries in Naib’s over by Wasim which yielded 18 runs and the pendulum had swung back Pakistan’s way with 28 runs now needed off 24 balls.
When Shadab Khan guided the dangerous Rashid Khan to the third man boundary, the game for any other team would have been wrapped up but not for Pakistan, who decided to keep things interesting with the run-out of Shadab off the very next ball.
Wahab Riaz with a fractured finger came out to bat with 22 runs needed off 20 balls. Injured finger or not, Riaz first smashed a Rashid googly through the covers and in his next over smashed the star Afghanistan leg-spinner over mid-wicket for a huge six to bring the equation down to run-a-ball 10 runs.
But all of this drama was completely unnecessary as Pakistan made a hash of a relatively simple chase of 228 runs. Opener Fakhar Zaman was dismissed off the second ball of the innings for a duck by Mujeeb ur Rahman.
But in-form Babar Azam and opener Imam-ul-Haq but on 72 runs for the second wicket to put Pakistan firmly on path to a comfortable victory.
All of that changed with the introduction of experienced Afghanistan off-spinner Mohammad Nabi, who first dragged Imam out of the crease for an easy stumping and then bowled Babar around his leg to bring the Afghans roaring back into the contest at 81/3.
Nabi was at his wily best keeping the Pakistan batsmen in check, bowling the most economical spell of the tournament so far couple with Mujeeb’s 2/34 kept Afghanistan in the hunt to post their first win of this World Cup.
Mohammed Hafeez, Haris Sohail and Sarfaraz Ahmed got settled but needlessly threw their wickets away to put Pakistan under heaps of pressure. It took a special effort from Wasim and Riaz to survive this test of nerves.
Earlier in the day, young paceman Shaheen Afridi continued from where he left off against New Zealand in the last game. The tall left-arm seamer picked up 4/47 after his three-wicket haul against the Black Caps, to keep Afghanistan down to 227/9 after bowling first.
Former Afghanistan skipper Asghar Afghan and Najibullah Zadran fought fire with fire to carry their team to a respectable total after they had been reduced to 57/3 in 12 overs.
Afridi put Pakistan on top with a double strike in his opening spell, removing skipper Gulbadin Naib and Hashmatullah Shahidi off successive balls. Pakistan got the on-field call overturned to have Naib adjudged caught-behind for their first wicket.
Asghar and wicket-keeper batsman Ikram Ali Khil then tried to resurrect the innings with a 64-run stand with the former taking the aggressive route by targeting the Pakistan bowlers.