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05 March 201400:58

Pakistan seals berth in Asia Cup final

Afridi, Fawad help overhaul Bangladesh’s 326 for 3 with three wickets in hand and a ball to spare

Pakistan seals berth in Asia Cup final - Cricket News

Pakistani captain Misbah-ul-Haq (R) and teammates celebrate their victory.

If this was a gunfight, it would have had Shakib Al Hasan and Shahid Afridi facing off in cowboy boots and spurs, with rounds of bullets hanging down their sides and an army of dead beside them, while they held the drop on each other.

Shakib had fired the first round with a 16-ball 44 in Bangladesh’s 326 for 3. He continued to hit targets, giving up only 11 runs in his first five overs for the crucial wicket of Misbah-ul-Haq. In the dramatic closing stages, with Bangladesh on the upswing, Afridi made his climactic entry, seemingly armed with the cheat codes of a videogame, impregnable and destined for victory. By the time he had added One-Day International cricket’s second quickest half-century to a CV that includes the second quickest century, Pakistan was well on its way to victory. It needed 33 off 19 when he was run out by a direct hit from Shakib after a manic 59 off 25 balls, but after Afridi’s innings, a win seemed pre-ordained.

Pakistan duly sealed victory with just one ball to spare, winning by three wickets in what was its highest successful chase in an ODI. The win ensured that Pakistan would make it to the final of the Asia Cup on March 8 and try to defend its crown against Sri Lanka, regardless of what happens in the remaining matches.

Bangladesh had been knocked out of the tournament, as had India – both of whom could have remained in contention had Bangladesh been successful in its defence.

The floodlights at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium shone brightest on the competing countries’ biggest stars, but a match of high drama and intensity had several other heroes as well. Both Anamul Haque and Ahmed Shehzad hit centuries at the top of the order, and while Mushfiqur Rahim and Mominul Haque sparkled with fifties, Fawad Alam’s 74 and Mohammad Hafeez’s all-round show did much to prop up Pakistan.

Bangladesh’s innings got fillip after the most bizarre moment of the day, when the returning Abdur Rehman was called on to bowl the 11th over of the innings, with the score 39 without loss. Rehman bowled three straight full tosses over the waist to be barred from bowling further and had the slightly farcical figures of 0-0-8-0 to show for his efforts.

There was a marked shift in momentum after that over as Bangladesh raced away. Rehman’s banishment from the attack also cut down Misbah’s options in who he could throw the ball to. Mohammad Talha was far removed from the bowler who troubled India on debut just two days ago, disappearing for 68 runs in 7 overs of misdirected pace.

Talha did make the first strike, when Imrul Kayes stepped out and heaved but only got an edge through to Umar Akmal. Both bowler and keeper had to almost plead with Johan Cloete, the umpire, to rule the batsman out. By then, though, Bangladesh already had 150 on the board and it was just the 29th over.

The almost packed stadium had reason to cheer shortly after that when Anamul drove Hafeez to long-on for his second ODI hundred. Though Anamul fell in the next over, holing out off Saeed Ajmal’s doosra, he had left Bangladesh with a wonderful platform on 204 for 2 in 39.1 overs.

From there, the middle order built rapidly, with Shakib and Rahim (51 not out off 33) putting on 77 unbroken runs in 34 balls at the end.

Bangladesh’s total appeared to be a safe one when Pakistan began sluggishly. Shehzad was solid but slow and Hafeez did all the running initially. Hafeez holed out against the mounting run-rate, leaving Pakistan 97 for 1 in the 21st over after a 55-ball 52, to go with his 10-0-27-0.

Shehzad, who took 87 balls to get to his fifty, picked up pace significantly thereafter, smashing 53 runs off the next 36 balls. It still seemed like an uphill chase with Bangladesh’s army of spinners keeping things quiet. Shezhad fell for 103, and Rehman, promoted up the order, couldn’t redeem his bowling woes.

Afridi walked out to join Alam at 225 for 5, with 102 runs needed off 52 balls. During his brief but explosive stay, he turned the chase on its head, batting with a new-found consistency in demolition. The first ball he faced sailed over the long-on fence, the first of his seven sixes.

When Rahim brought back Shakib, he was carted for three sixes in an over, but the drama was far from over. In Shakib’s penultimate over, Afridi swung and missed, but the ball didn’t miss the stumps. To Shakib’s disbelief, the bails weren’t dislodged and Afridi stayed on, though he was hobbling on one leg after picking up an injury on field.

In the next over, Afridi skied Al-Amin Hossain straight and high, but when an injured leg and a shave of the stumps hadn’t slowed him down, a simple skier wouldn’t do it. Rahim shelled the simplest of chances to stun a raucous stadium into silence, and Afridi batted on. He had reached his half-century off 18 balls – one ball more than Sanath Jayasuriya’s ODI record of 17 – and despite being on one leg, he still found it in him to connect one more hit over the fence. However, Shakib finally had his man with a direct hit, catching the hobbling Afridi just short of his crease after a 69-run stand off 33 balls.

The last throw of the dice still remained, even though Pakistan had brought it down to just three runs off the final over, with Alam striking cleanly and well. When only one run came off the first three balls, Umar Akmal lost his head and charged down off the fourth. Alam, late to react and not expecting to have to run, was comfortably run-out.

Umar however calmed down enough to connect with the next delivery and send it to the midwicket fence, sealing the fate of three teams with one shot.