Asia Cup 2014 Results: Magical Afridi Finds His Batting Powers as Pakistan Edge India in Thriller
By Deepak Vikraman | March 3, 2014 2:57 AM EST
Shahid Afridi, and the player himself will probably admit it, is not really known anymore as a batsman. He is more of a bowler, an effective one, who can wield the willow to good use every now and then.
However, that magical powers with the bat still exist somewhere within the veteran, and unfortunately for India, Afridi (34, 18b, 2x4, 3x6) decided to bring out his finishing prowess in the Asia Cup 2014 must-win encounter on Sunday, and with it taking Pakistan to an as-exciting-as-it-gets one-wicket victory.
India vs Pakistan matches are never boring, even when one-sided, and this proved to be a humdinger, as the match went right down to the wire, with only a boundary here or there - and Afridi -- eventually making the difference.
India, asked to bat first, struggled in the middle, managing a below par 245 for eight from their 50 overs, with Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu and Ravindra Jadeja cracking half-centuries.
In reply, Pakistan's fragile batting came to the fore, while India's spin bowling, particularly the finally-I-have-been-given-a-game Amit Mishra, raising those heartbeats to catastrophic levels, before Afridi, following a match-turning partnership between Mohammed Hafeez and Sohaib Maqsood, saw Pakistan home, just about, with one wicket and two balls to spare.
Ahmed Shehzad and Sharjeel Khan got Pakistan off to a cracking start, with the former, in particular, playing a couple of now-it's-clear-why-he-is-so-highly-rated shots. Needing below five runs an over to take victory and move to the brink of the Asia Cup semifinals, Pakistan raced to 67 after the first ten overs, leaving India more bemused than a shrink listening to Charlie Sheen.
R Ashwin, though, opened the pages of a possible India revival, by bowling a brilliant delivery which went the wrong way to castle the left-handed Sharjeel (25, 30b, 3x4, 1x6). Shehzad, for the umpteenth time, failed to take advantage of a sound start, with Mishra, who finished with quite outstanding figures of 10-0-28-2, picking up a wicket.
Danger man Misbah-ul-Haq was walking back soon after wondering just what he needs to do to face a few deliveries, with another run out, after facing just four deliveries this time, following a no-ball-facing duck in the previous game, proving to be the skipper's batting demise.
With Umar Akmal in the form that he is in, India were always going to need to pick up the dangerous right-hander, and Mishra stepped up brilliantly, tossing a ball up, turning it and inducing a lofted shot from Akmal, who only managed to sky it to Ravindra Jadeja.
Sohaib Maqsood walked in and put on a cultured 87-run partnership with Hafeez, who was doing a really good job of anchoring the chase.
The duo, who had chances put down, courtesy Dinesh Karthik and Ashwin, were seemingly taking Pakistan to victory, bringing the target down to 56 from 54 balls, only for Hafeez (75, 117b, 3x4, 2x6), after a couple of tight overs from the Indians, to sweep one straight to Bhuvneshwar Kumar off Ashwin.
With Shahid you-never-know-what-to-expect-from-him Afridi at the crease, the onus was on Maqsood (38, 53b, 2x4, 1x6) to take control, but the right-hander decided to open the game up even more, going for a suicidal single and getting himself run out.
The equation suddenly went from a comfortable one to a tricky one, with Pakistan, four wickets in hand, needing 43 from the final five overs.
Afridi, though, proved to be the difference, as the right-hander, who brings his destructive abilities with the bat rarely nowadays, deciding to take charge.
A pull shot for a six, a lap shot for a boundary, and another astute sweep for another four and Pakistan were the favourites again, with Umar Gul also getting in on the act, as India's death bowling, or the lack thereof, again came back to haunt them.
The target was brought down to 17 from the last three, before Afridi and Gul took it to 13 from 12 balls. Kumar, under pressure, after an expensive over, came up trumps brilliantly in the penultimate over, picking up Gul and Mohammed Talha, both perishing to a catch in the deep, while only conceding three runs to give Ashwin the chance to do the trick for India.
The India off-spinner started off in awesome fashion, bowling Saeed Ajmal, but in stepped Afridi, to smash two consecutive sixes to take Pakistan to an epic victory, and to the brink of a final in the Asia Cup.
India needed a strong start, batting first, to be able to post a total they the bowlers think they can defend, but it was not to be as Shikhar Dhawan was rapped on the pads by Mohammad Hafeez on the back foot, with umpire Nigel Llong raising the finger to basically set the tone for the rest of the innings, where wickets at regular intervals were very much the norm.
In an India vs Pakistan game, a Virat Kohli cracker was essential, but it was the India skipper who took a backseat as Rohit Sharma, stuck-man and dot ball king, found that elegance with great effect, smoking boundary after boundary to coast India to 56 from the first nine overs -- Rohit scoring 39 of those from just 31 deliveries, with five fours and a couple of sixes.
But then, this India lineup is a lot more brittle than a 90-year-old's bones, and a now-that-is-a-surprise false shot from Kohli (5, 11b) led to his demise, with Umar Gul picking up the wicket after the right-hander looked to glide the ball to third man but only managed to edge it to a delighted Akmal.
Sharma (56, 58b, 7x4, 2x6) got to his 50, but that flow ebbed a little and Mohammad Talha, in for Anwar Ali, was celebrating after the first ball of the 20th over, after the India opener mistimed one to the leg side with Hafeez running over to take the catch.
That put India on a tricky 92 for three after 20 overs, and matters only worsened as Ajinkya Rahane, after a Test-like 23 from 50 balls (3x4), picked out Hafeez at midwicket perfectly to gift Talha his second wicket.
Dinesh Karthik and Ambati Rayudu put on 52 for the fifth wicket, but India never looked comfortable - there was no panache, no "we're in the groove", "this is our match to take" feeling, with Pakistan definitely the team with their noses firmly in front.
Karthik fell to Hafeez after a 46-ball 23, with Rayudu (58, 62, 4x4, 1x6) and Jadeja (52 n.o., 49b, 4x4, 2x6) then putting on a crucial 59-run partnership in ten overs, to at least take India to the final overs with a chance to go slam-bang.
Pakistan were the ones to leave the field with a more content expression in their faces, though, as India, with 77 runs from the final ten overs - Saeed Ajmal bowling a smashing penultimate over, conceding just a single run while picking up two wickets -- were left with a yeah-this-is-not-gonna-be-enough-unless-we-unless-we-awaken-the-bowling-ghosts-of-Kapil-Dev-and-Anil-Kumble 245 for eight.
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