T20 World Cup: How Asif spared Pakistan’s blushes v Afghanistan

Batsman Asif Ali hit four sixes in the 19th over to take Pakistan home in nervy chase against Afghanistan.

The match was in the balance as Pakistan headed into the last two overs needing 24 runs to win [Aamir Qureshi/AFP]

Asif Ali’s inclusion in Pakistan’s T20 World Cup squad raised a few eyebrows.

Ali is a proven performer in domestic cricket but his returns in national team colours have been inconsistent.

On Friday, he hit four sixes in the penultimate over as Pakistan sealed a five-wicket victory over Afghanistan with six balls to spare, the team’s third win in as many T20 World Cup matches.

The match was in the balance as Pakistan headed into the last two overs needing 24 runs to win.

But man-of-the-match Ali then dispatched Karim Janat into the stands four times in the space of six balls to consolidate Pakistan’s place at the top of the Group 2.

The 2009 champions now need one more win against either Namibia or Scotland to qualify for the semi-finals.

Dashing batsman Ali said he had been confident he would hit sixes.

“I have confidence in my hitting and that paid off,” said Asif after the match. “I hit sixes towards the longer side of the boundary.”

Pakistan, chasing 148 to win, were well placed at 122-3 in the 17th over when Afghan leg-spinner Rashid Khan turned the match on its head, bowling Babar Azam for 51.

In the next over, Naveen-ul-Haq conceded just two runs and dismissed veteran Shoaib Malik for 19.

Shadab Khan came in for the last ball of the over and guided a shot into space, but Asif refused a single, taking the fate of the match in his hands.

With Pakistan needing 24 off the last two overs, he went on the rampage against Janat, smashing the first, third, fifth and sixth deliveries high over the boundary.

“Yes, I knew that there was a single, but I had confidence that I will hit sixes and score the needed runs,” Asif said.

“They did not bowl towards the shorter boundaries but I hit him towards the longer side. My job is to hit sixes, so I practise in scenarios based on situations, needing to hit sixes in the last five overs type situations,” he said.

Maligned for his poor form despite being given consistent chances by team management, Asif said he ignored criticism.

“I don’t read what is said about me on social media and don’t watch television so I don’t know what is said about me in social media and that helps me focus on my work.”

Prior to Ali’s onslaught, amid unbearable tension and a cacophony of noise, Afghanistan’s players were in sight of the biggest win in their country’s cricketing history.

But with four aggressive strikes, Asif Ali took it away from them.

“The boundary was small from this end so I told my partner I’d go for it,” Asif said. “Thank God we pulled it off.”

“Asif has played many such innings at the Pakistan Super League. I was very confident he’d get us out of any trouble,” Pakistan captain Babar Azam said.

Earlier, Pakistan pacer Shaheen Afridi repeatedly hit Hazratullah Zazai’s pad after Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi elected to bat.

Pakistan blew a review trying to get Zazai lbw but went on to wreck Afghanistan’s top order to reduce them to 39-4 in the sixth over.

Haris Rauf took a brilliant tumbling catch in the second over to send back Zazai and then caught Asghar Afghan off his own bowling.

Rahmanullah Gurbaz nearly ran himself out after a mix-up with Afghan but could not capitalise on the reprieve and Afghanistan lost the top half of their batting order even before the halfway stage of their innings.

Nabi and Gulbadan Naib came to Afghanistan’s rescue striking identical unbeaten 35s to lend some respectability to their total.

Pakistan lost Mohammed Rizwan early in their reply but Babar and Fakhar Zaman (30) combined to shave off half the target.

More than 1,000 ticketless Afghan fans tried to forcibly enter the stadium for the match and were thwarted by the local police.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies