No team can do without drama in this Asia Cup. A fourth successive game was decided in the last over. After Pakistan had restricted Afghanistan to 129/6, the match seemed sewn up, the Sunday seemed all set for a Pakistan-Sri Lanka final. But there was a twist, rather a series of twists before Pakistan sneaked into the final with a one-wicket win over a defiant Afghanistan, whose players were reduced to tears.
When Asif Ali departed in the last ball of the 19th over, Pakistan’s hopes were snuffed out. They were down to the last pair—Naseem Shah and Mohammad Hasnain, who had a combined tally of five T20 international runs. But Naseem pummelled the first two balls of Fazalhaq Farooqi’s last over for sixes to wrap an unforgettable victory for Pakistan. The first ball was an intended yorker that turned out to be a full toss. With a fluid bat-swing, he swung it over long-off. The second stroke was a replica—a missed yorker and a neat blow over long-off. Afghanistan captain would later say that his instruction was to either bowl a yorker or slow bouncer and Farooqi chose yorker but couldn’t land them.
But in the first place, Pakistan had little business being in this heart-pounding juncture but for their own self-implosive traits. The chase was flowing smoothly at eighty seven for three in 15.2 overs, after weathering a bumpy start, when Ifthikar Ahmed departed and they lost six wickets for 23 runs, sparking hopes of a famous upset win that would have kept both India and Pakistan in the hunt.
UNBELIEVABLE FINISH! 🤩
Pakistan are through to the Asia Cup final💪|
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB)
The key protagonists were Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz. Both bowl spin, can bat and are terrific fielders, but those virtues of similar hues have often pitted them as suitors for the same spot, not only in Pakistan’s white ball sides but also when they were together in Pakistan A side and even with the Edmonton Royals, a club in Canada. Nonetheless, they are good friends, collaborators and in this Asia Cup, their side’s tag-team destroyers, bagging more than half of the wickets Pakistan have managed in this tournament.
Between them, they have nabbed 15 wickets; the four fast bowlers just 12. The pair has been paragons of thriftiness—Shadab has conceded 5.79 while Nawaz’s corresponding figure is 6.29. On the other hand, the pacers have bled an average of nearly eight runs an over.
At one stage Afghanistan were 34/0 in 3.5 overs, before they lost the openers Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Hazratulllah Zaza. Immediately, Babar introduced his spinners, whose primary virtue is control. Loose balls are rare, semi-rare balls are rarer, they are at you all the time, changing their trajectories, mixing their pace, slipping in their variations. They pile on pressure, they kick in desperation, they make batsmen embrace high-risk strokes. As Karim Janat would testify, After Nawaz had gagged and locked-up, he attempted the jailbreak. His last resort—a slog sweep, to which he could barely impart a decent connection.
In the same vein, Shadab terminated Najibullah Zardan, who had smacked him over midwicket. Shadab responded with his full repertoire of leg-breaks and googlies and eventually nailed him with his quicker, seam-up full ball that clocked 110kph, which Zardan mistimed to long-on.
What A Thriller, Naseem Shah you beauty 😍
Naseem Shah what a finish the match in super style with two consecutive 6️⃣s.
— muhammmad shahzad (@mrshahzad54)
Unlike the standard googly-spewing leg-spinners you find in the T20 circuit, Shadab trusts his leg-break, bowls it more often. There are PSL reels of his giving Babar Azam a mini Gatting-Warne moment, when he made a ball hiss past the bat to flick the off-stump. The googly too turns when he gives it an extra rip. Besides these variations, he bowls seam-up deliveries that purchase subtle in-swing as well as yorkers. On Wednesday, his speed ranged from 77 to 115 kph.
Nawaz too lavishly tosses the ball up, when he needs to, gets the ball spin away from the right-hander and possesses the arm-ball, both the flat quick one as well as the one that floats. Like Shadab, he is skilled at bowling seam up and yorkers. Not surprisingly, they stick together on the field.
Their batting too have been resourceful in the tournament—as significant as Nawaz’s 20-ball 32 was Shadab’s 26-ball 36. But how this tournament continues to throw up twists, turns and drama.