Afghanistan 133 for 3 (Gurbaz 44, Ibrahim Zadran 38, Zaman 1-22) beat
Pakistan 130 for 6 (Imad 64*, Shadab 32, Farooqi 2-19) by seven wickets
A little over a decade after they burst onto the international scene, Afghanistan have defeated Pakistan for the second successive match, sealing a famous series win with a game to spare. Another solid bowling performance set them up for it, but they threatened to make a bit of a meal of the 131 they had to chase. But, just as they had on Friday, Najibullah Zadran and Mohammad Nabi hung around till the end to shepherd their side through tempestuous waters, thwarting Pakistan at the death once more.
Pakistan fought valiantly in defence of 130, and for much of the chase, found themselves well on top. Even Afghanistan’s talismanic opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz could do little in the face of disciplined bowling by both pace and spin, and when his second-wicket stand with Ibrahim Zadran ended, the required rate had soared past ten. Afghanistan found themselves requiring 22 off the final two overs on a pitch where that sort of scoring is notoriously difficult, with Naseem Shah and Zaman Khan still to bowl.
But, once more, Nabi was there for Afghanistan. A smeared six over midwicket off the first ball of Naseem’s final over handed the advantage to his side, before Najibullah bookended that over with another huge six over long-on. Zaman Khan did his best to keep Afghanistan honest in his attempt to defend five, but that was a bridge too far, even for him. A slash to deep third, a failed attempt at a catch, and a ball that burst through to the boundary, and victory was complete. Afghanistan have never had anything given to them easy, but what they’ve just gone out and earned will taste the sweetest of all.
Farooqi’s first-over magic
Afghanistan shot out Pakistan’s top order on Friday thanks in large part to Fazalhaq Farooqi. The Afghan fast bowler repeated the dose in a sensational first over today, sending down a double-wicket maiden to begin proceedings. Moments after Pakistan had opted to bat first once more, it took two balls for Saim Ayub to slice one to the keeper, Gurbaz taking a stunning catch low to his left. Farooqi piled on the misery on Abdullah Shafique next ball, an inswinging fuller delivery condemning him to his fourth-successive T20I duck. Mohammad Haris was good for a few breezy boundaries, but really, it was all Afghanistan, with the opener nicking off to Gurbaz for a 9-ball 15.
When Pakistan lost half their side for 63, getting to three figures looked a challenge. But Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim found a way to hold off a surging Afghanistan bowling attack, first by consolidating, and then by attacking. Rashid Khan’s spell was seen off; the first five overs of the stand saw no boundaries scored at all. But having taken the sting out of the attack, the duo began to slowly turn the tables. A six from Imad was the catalyst for a counter-attack; it brought up a 45-ball half-century before Shadab joined in. The final four overs saw 42 runs scored, and Pakistan had a total they could have a go at defending.
Pakistan’s barren squeeze
Gurbaz struck a glorious six off Naseem in an expensive first over, but that over aside, Pakistan were smothering both him and his side in the chase. The runs came in singles rather than boundaries, and whatever infrequent four the hosts managed to snatch dried up entirely after the Powerplay ended. Gurbaz struggled to find any fluency on a slow surface, and a scratchy innings from Ibrahim at the other end didn’t ease their required-rate woes, either. It was a barren squeeze as Pakistan managed just the one wicket in 15 overs, but by now, the run rate had slipped below a run-a-ball. Just one boundary had been scored in the previous nine overs, and it showed in the way Gurbaz perished.
Getting desperate in his quest for a boundary, he set up for a switch hit, but only dragged a mistimed hoick to short third. He set off for a single, only to be turned back, but Naseem’s direct hit gave him no chance. Gurbaz fumed as he walked off, and Afghanistan’s chances looked to go up in smoke. But crucially, Afghanistan had not thrown away wickets while Pakistan’s bowlers were on top, and that mattered in the end.