Pakistan's players celebrate their win in the T20 cricket match of Asia Cup against Afghanistan in Sharjah on Wednesday. AP
Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
Naseem Shah became the overnight hero as he kept his cool and hit two consecutive sixes off Fazalhaq Farooqi in the last over as Pakistan survived a scare to beat Afghanistan by one wicket in their Asia Cup match on Wednesday.
With the victory, Pakistan also set up a final clash with Sri Lanka, ending Indiaâ€™s hopes of making it to the title showdown and breaking a million hearts along the way.
Defending a paltry total, Afghanistan bowlers kept it tight and refused to give up easily. In his second spell, Fareed Ahmed got rid of Iftikhar to bring Afghanistan back in the game, five balls later Rashid dismissed Shadab, who scored 26-ball 36, leaving Pakistan in tatters. Sahdabâ€™s dismissal opened the floodgates for Afghanistan bowlers.
Fareed and Farooqi ripped through the tail as Pakistan lost six wickets in 21 runs, bringing the equation down to 11 needed off the last over with one wicket in hand. Everyone had written Pakistan off, but young and determined Naseem had different plans.
When other failed to soak the pressure and threw away their wickets in frenzy, Naseem realized, it was an opportunity for him to become a national hero.
It was one of those moments when even the calmest minds would fret but the unbridled young Naseem seemed unfazed by it and hit two sixes on the trot off the first two deliveries of the last over to put all the doubts to rest and take Pakistan over line with four balls to spare.
Chasing 129, Pakistan were off to a disastrous start as they lost the wicket of Babar Azam with just one run on the board. Babar was dismissed for golden duck as Farooqi trapped the Pakistanâ€™s skipper in front of wickets.
Fakhar Zaman was found short of the crease while scrambling for a run as a direct throw from Najibullah sent the bails off in the air. Pakistan lost their second wicket.
Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi brought Mujibur Rahman on the attack as expected. Mujeeb bowled in a tight line and did not give any room to the Pakistani batsmen. He choked the flow of runs completely which suffocated the Pakistani batsmen. He conceded an insane 12 runs off four overs.
Rashid and Nabi bowled in tandem from either end and kept the pressure on. Rashid got rid of Rizwan to push Pakistan on the backfoot. Suddenly a modest target of 130 started looking a colossal task.
Iftikhar Ahmed and Shadab added 42 runs for the fourth wicket to take the score to 87/4 and kept the chase alive after they were reduced to 45/3. In the 12th over, Shadab took 14 runs off Nabi with the help of a six and a boundary to ease the pressure on Pakistan.
Earlier, after getting off to a flying start, Afghanistan failed to maintain the momentum. They could not capitalise on the blazing start and threw away their wickets.
Both the openers Hazaratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz added a quick-fire 36 runs for the first wicket. Zazai was dropped by Naseem off Rauf in the fourth over when he was batting on 16.
Zazai opened the edge of the bat, sliced the ball towards the third man. Naseem failed to get hold of the ball and dropped a simple catch.
Two balls later, Rauf uprooted the stumps of Gurbaz to give Pakistan first breakthrough and trigger the collapse. Zazai could not capitalise on the chance that he got as Mohammad Hasnain rattled his stumps. Zazai could add five runs to his total.
Afghanistan needed someone to play the sheet-anchor role and bring the faltering innings back on the track. Â But they could not get the partnerships going and kept on losing the wickets at regular intervals.
Ibrahim Zadran and Karim Janat added 35 runs for the third wicket in a bid to revive the innings but Mohammad Nawaz broke the dangerous looking partnership.
Every time Afghanistan tried to build a partnership and take a step forward, they were pegged two steps back by a charged-up Pakistani bowling attack.
Najibullah Zadran, who smashed 17-ball 45 against Bangladesh to tilt the game in Afghanistanâ€™s favour, was caught by Fakhar off Shadab Khan, as Afghanistan were reduced to 91/4 in 14 overs.
With six wickets in hands and as many overs remaining, Afghanistan looked set to reach a target of 150. But all they needed was a good partnership.
Ibrahim Zadran was holding the fort single handedly as the wickets kept on falling on the other end. He scored a patient 36-ball 35 to keep the Pakistani bowlers at bay.
Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi was dismissed for a golden duck off the first ball of the next over.
He dragged a Naseemâ€™s delivery as the ball crashed on to his stumps after taking an inside edge. Ibrahim became the second scalp of Rauf as he was taken by Rizwan behind the stumps.
Azmatullah Zadran and Rashid Khan showed some resistance as the duo added an unbeaten 25 runs for the seventh wicket to take the score to 129/6 in their allotted 20 overs.