Pakistan prove too strong for Afghanistan
A composed Pakistan eased to victory over challengers Afghanistan in Sharjah on Friday in the first-ever ODI between an ICC Full member and an Affiliate, dismissing their opponents for a modest 195 and then knocking off the runs for the loss of three wickets and with almost 13 overs to spare.
Afghanistan began in positive mood after Nowroz Mangal won the toss and elected to bat, which is after all the only way they play: Karim Sadiq clipped Umar Gul to the midwicket boundary in the first over, and by the end of the fourth he and Noor Ali had reached 20 without being in any apparent difficulty.
But then a tendency to play across the line undid Noor Ali, as he tried to repeat a fine shot he had struck off Gul and succeeded only in spooning an easy catch back to the bowler.
Mohammad Shahzad was, if anything, even more aggressive than Karim, smacking three successive boundaries off Wahab Riaz and then, when Misbah-ul-Haq turned to spin as early as the ninth over, produced an extraordinary reverse slog-sweep to belt Saeed Ajmal over point for six.
It could not last, however, and Shahzad sliced Shahid Afridi's second delivery high to point, where Asad Shafiq leapt like an ebullient salmon to take a brilliant catch. His 20 had come from just 17 balls.
Nowroz Mangal came and went and when Karim, on 40, became Afridi's third victim the Afghans were on 88 for four and their promising start seemed in danger of imploding.
Karim fell in the first over of Pakistan's powerplay, and so well did Afridi, Mohammad Hafeez and Ajmal contain Mohammad Nabi and Gulbudin Naib that only 12 runs came from those five overs.
Consolidation was crucial at this stage, but Naib's first boundary was immediately followed by his departure, leg-before to Afridi, whose eight-over spell gave him figures of four for 26.
Nabi and Samiullah Shenwari have dug Afghanistan out of trouble in the past, and they set about doing so again here, putting on 46 for the sixth wicket in the best partnership of the innings. They set themselves for a charge, Nabi hitting two splendid straight sixes, but just as they were about to take their powerplay, Nabi ran himself out looking for an impossible single to Younus Khan.
From 147 for six with 15 overs left it was going to be a struggle to get past 200, but Mirwais Ashraf gave Samiullah solid support until Afridi returned to claim his seemingly-inevitable fifth wicket. Sami battled on, and Dawlat Zadran struck Wahab for another fine six.
The Pakistani pace men had the final word, however, with Samiullah eventually going for a steady 32 and the innings closing on 195 in the penultimate over. But it was Afridi who was the star of the show with five for 36 from his ten overs, a performance which would win him the Man of the Match award.
Defending such a modest total Afghanistan needed early wickets, but although Shapoor Zadran and Dawlat Zadran contributed hostile spells with the new balls (as we now have to say), Dawlat removing first Mohammad Hafeez and then Asad Shafiq, Imran Farhat stood firm and shared a stand of 57 with Younus Khan which took Pakistan past the halfway mark.
Farhat and Younus gave a demonstration of how to keep the boundaries coming without taking unnecessary risks, and the Afghan bowlers, without the injured Hamid Hassan, were unable to apply the kind of pressure which was needed if Pakistan's progress was to be halted.
In the end, it was Samiullah's leg spin which induced Farhat to hit a simple return catch when he had made 52 from 67 deliveries, with nine boundaries. That was to be Afghanistan's final success, however, and with Younus displaying his full range of strokes in making an undefeated, 65-ball 70 including ten boundaries, and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq contributing a more restrained 40 not out which nevertheless included the only two sixes of the innings, Pakistan were not to be denied.
By the time Shahzad dropped the only chance Younus gave, off the bowling of Shapoor, only 44 more were needed, and it was a Misbah reverse sweep which finally clinched the victory five overs later.
Afghanistan had given a good account of themselves, but the gap in both experience and class told throughout, from the undisciplined batting of the top order to some rather untidy fielding. But it is only through such matches that the experience can be developed, and the necessary lessons learned.