The thrilling clash between fast bowlers and batsmen’s agility is akin to a blazing fire igniting the ice of spinners tangling up batters. In Hambantota on Tuesday, the cricketing arena witnessed a crescendo of pure excitement as bowler Haris Rauf took center stage, culminating in Pakistan’s dominant victory by bundling Afghanistan out for a paltry 59 runs.
Spin Trio and Pace Treble Lead the Charge
To kickstart the action, Afghanistan’s spin trio – comprising Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Rashid Khan, and Mohammad Nabi – effectively dismantled Pakistan’s batting order, restricting them to a total of 201 runs. Pakistan’s pace treble – Haris Rauf, Shaheen Shah Afridi, and Naseem Shah – then stepped up with an explosive display, decimating Afghanistan for their second lowest ODI total and securing a commanding 142-run triumph in the inaugural ODI.
Explosive Start by Rauf, Afridi, and Naseem
Rauf emerged as the standout performer, claiming a remarkable five-wicket haul for a mere 18 runs – his best ODI performance to date. Setting the stage, Afridi initiated the downfall by dismissing Ibrahim Zadran with a bouncing delivery in just his second over. In quick succession, he forced Rahmat Shah to flick a full toss, leading to a simple catch at short midwicket.
Naseem Shah joined the fray, exhibiting his high pace and movement to entangle Gurbaz. His well-directed bouncer spelled the end for Hashmatullah Shahidi, whose pull shot narrowly evaded clearing forward square leg. However, Shadab Khan’s agile jump to his left allowed him to catch the ball mid-air in one fluid motion, dismissing the Afghanistan captain.
Batsmen’s Struggle and Rauf’s Masterclass
With the top four batters dismissed without a run to their names, Afghanistan’s batting spectacle failed to materialize. Rauf initiated his spell with a nipping backer that caught Ikram Alikhil off-guard, resulting in an inside edge to the wicketkeeper. Gurbaz’s discomfort was palpable throughout his innings, culminating in a delicate outside edge caught by the wicketkeeper at 18 runs – the highest individual score for Afghanistan.
Azmatullah Omarzai showcased an aggressive intent, scoring a brisk 16 off 12 balls, including three fours, before retiring hurt. Meanwhile, Rauf continued his dominance by dismantling the middle order and ultimately finishing with a five-wicket haul after Mujeeb’s mistimed shot was caught at mid-on.
Babar Azam Takes Charge Amid Challenges
In earlier proceedings, on a scorching afternoon, Babar Azam, Pakistan’s skipper, seized the toss and opted for batting on a dry surface. However, Pakistan’s batting line-up faltered, losing two crucial wickets with just seven runs on the board within the initial two overs. Left-arm pacer Fazalhaq Farooqi wreaked havoc with his swing, inducing an edge from Fakhar Zaman, who was subsequently caught at slip.
Employing a crafty inswinging yorker on the second delivery, Farooqi caught Fakhar off guard, enticing a poke that resulted in another dismissal. Meanwhile, Mujeeb, entrusted with opening the bowling, delivered a full-length delivery in line with the stumps, catching Babar off-guard and securing a leg-before-wicket dismissal for the Pakistani skipper.
Rizwan’s Flourish Amid Challenges
Mohammad Rizwan, regaining his position at No. 4 after batting at No. 5 in the previous series against New Zealand, exhibited an assertive approach from the outset. He confidently dispatched Farooqi for two fours in the fifth over, lofting a full ball over extra cover before elegantly caressing one through the same region. Rizwan continued his aggressive stance by securing two more boundaries off Farooqi’s following over, effectively elevating Pakistan’s run rate.
However, Mujeeb, in his fourth over, trapped Rizwan leg-before-wicket, creating a setback for Pakistan. Employing a carrom ball that pitched around the leg, Mujeeb deceived Rizwan, who failed to defend and was subsequently struck on the back leg. Replays confirmed that the ball would have hit the bails. Agha Salman, riding high from a successful series against New Zealand at home in May, grappled before succumbing to a Rashid googly, contributing to Pakistan’s slide to 62 for 4.
Steadfast Imam-ul-Haq Amid Fluctuations
Amidst the upheaval, Imam-ul-Haq displayed steadfastness, capitalizing on weak deliveries from Farooqi, and crucially, negotiating Mujeeb, Rashid, and Nabi’s spin with a solid back-foot game. His half-century exemplified diligence, featuring a modest count of two fours. Imam adeptly rotated the strike even as wickets tumbled around him, showcasing excellent running between the wickets.
Imam’s Bittersweet Journey
Seeking to accelerate against Nabi, Imam attempted an aggressive shot and top-edged the ball. However, Shahidi, stationed at cover, couldn’t hold onto the catch as he raced back. Imam earned another reprieve as Omarzai failed to grasp a lofted drive to deep cover, and a miscued pull barely fell short of the approaching long-on fielder. Nevertheless, Imam’s fortune ran out when he aimed to hit Nabi over mid-on, resulting in a miscue that Rashid gleefully accepted with a tumbling catch after retreating.
Collaborative Efforts for Pakistan’s Resurgence
During his resilient stay at the crease, Imam discovered a valuable ally in Iftikhar Ahmed, forging a solid 50-run partnership for the fifth wicket. Subsequently, Shadab Khan joined forces with Imam, propelling their partnership to 40 runs.
Iftikhar’s contribution proved pivotal in Pakistan’s revival, as he adeptly employed the crease against spin deliveries, capitalizing on singles and twos. He capitalized on short and wide balls, efficiently executing the cut shot for two well-timed fours. However, Nabi’s off-spinning delivery, which held its line on the surface, forced Iftikhar into a mistimed shot, resulting in a catch at short midwicket.
Shadab’s Counterattack and the Final Push
On the other hand, Shadab, making his fourth ODI appearance in 2023, anticipated Rashid’s googly early and launched it over the bowler’s head for a boundary. He further partnered with Naseem for a valuable 34-run addition for the ninth wicket. However, a precise throw from Mujeeb, positioned at fine leg, resulted in Shadab’s run-out at the bowler’s end.
Afghanistan’s Feat and Frustration
Afghanistan succeeded in bowling out Pakistan for the first time in ODIs, yet their subdued batting surrender prolonged their quest for a maiden victory against their rivals in this format.