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Akmal ton takes Pakistan to 72-run win

Defending champions earn bonus point, but Afghans have a lot to be proud of after a match they dominated for a while

Akmal ton takes Pakistan to 72-run win - Cricket News
Umar Akmal scored an unbeaten century as Pakistan beat Afghanistan by 72 runs.
Umar Akmal had fallen after being set against Sri Lanka in the opening match of the 2014 Asia Cup on Tuesday. On Thursday (February 27), however, he rode his luck to smash a match-turning century that gave Pakistan a 72-run win against Afghanistan. Umar bailed the team out from a tricky situation with some textbook rearguard action that also ensured Pakistan got a bonus point and moved to the top of the table.

In the 30th over of its innings, Pakistan was 117 for 6. In the 37th, it should have been 146 for 7, but Samiullah Shenwari spilled a regulation take off Umar, giving the Pakistan wicketkeeper-batsman a fresh lease of life. That one moment changed the course of the match and allowed Pakistan to post 248 for 8, a total that proved beyond Afghanistan’s reach as it was all out for 176 in 47.2 overs.

Umar capitalised on the largesse to stroke and bludgeon his way to a second One-Day International hundred, ending unbeaten on an 89-ball 102. The drop came when Umar was on 28, Shapoor Zadran the unlucky bowler. Shapoor had gone around the wicket and found the ideal length for a left-arm seamer, getting it to pitch and then straighten, and Umar’s slog resulted in a leading edge that ballooned to point, but Shenwari made a hash of it.

Umar had come in after Pakistan had lost Ahmed Shehzad (50 off 74) and Misbah-ul-Haq off consecutive balls. Shehzad was deceived by a flatter and quicker one from Shenwari and, off the next delivery, Sohaib Maqsood tapped the ball on the off side and set off for a run, but hesitated halfway down, leading to a slip and a fall. Without looking to see where Misbah was, Maqsood got up and raced back to the safety of his crease, where his captain, who had responded to the initial call, joined him. With both batsmen at one end, Mohammad Shahzad, the wicketkeeper, ran down the length of the pitch to break the stumps at the bowler’s end, leaving Pakistan 89 for 4 in 23.1 overs.

From there, Umar could only watch as Maqsood and Shahid Afridi fell. He might have joined them if not for the dropped chance, but ended up doing the star turn in a late revival that brought Pakistan 129 runs in the last 20 overs, 59 of them coming in the last five.

Umar began the final over, bowled by Dawlat Zadran, on 85. He took a two, struck two fours, turned down two singles when the ball travelled to men on the fence, and reached his ton with a monstrous six over long-on, leading to ecstatic celebrations, a run down the full length of the pitch and a kiss to the turf.

It was all so different from the morning, when Mohammad Nabi won the toss and chose to bowl under cloudy skies at Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium.

Shapoor and Dawlat set the tone straightaway. They weren’t quite the two Ws, but with Shapoor’s left-arm action complemented by the pacy Dawlat – whose action brought Waqar Younis to mind – they gave a good imitation of Pakistan’s famous erstwhile new-ball pair.

Dawlat was distinctly unlucky to be denied a wicket in the fourth over, when Sharjeel Khan tried to pull a ball directed at his ribs but only gloved it through to Shahzad behind the stumps. On the whole, the Afghanistan bowlers kept things tight, and when Sharjeel became the first man to fall, the score was 55 in 12.3 overs.

Shenwari (2 for 34) and Mirwais Ashraf (2 for 29) both showed exemplary control. Shenwari, who became Afghanistan’s highest wicket-taker in ODIs with 35 scalps, varied the pace and flight of his legspinners, while Ashraf struck a nagging medium-pace line with a hint of wobble in the air to keep the batsmen honest. The bowlers kept Afghanistan on top until Umar broke loose in the final few overs.

Afghanistan’s reply began brightly enough, with Noor Ali Zadran playing some delightful drives and flicks to keep the scoreboard moving, but the advent of Junaid Khan, Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi brought the scoring rate down to a crawl.

Umar Gul had provided the first breakthrough, winning a caught behind decision from Billy Bowden against Shahzad, though replays were inconclusive on whether there was an edge. In any case, Afghanistan found itself at 32 for 1 after five overs.

Asghar Stanikzai, the No. 3 batsman, couldn’t find his range, timing or gaps in the field and struggled, and was crawling at about two runs an over. With Noor Ali also finding the spinners difficult to negotiate, the chase stagnated.

Stanikzai and Nawroz Mangal did add 74 for the third wicket, but they took 18.1 overs to do so. Then, from 139 for 3 in 36.5 overs, Afghanistan lost a cluster of wickets against a mounting required rate, as the middle and lower order couldn’t find answers against the slower bowlers. Between them, Ajmal, Hafeez and Afridi accounted for six of the wickets.

Afghanistan was left to reflect on what could have been, but in spite of the one error, it had shown that it would be a mistake to treat it as pushovers, which was a kind of victory in itself.

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