Afghanistan gave Pakistan a scare and India a glimmer of hope before Naseem Shah’s back-to-back sixes off Fazalhaq Farooqi in the final over dashed the possibility of a stunning upset in Sharjah on Wednesday. Pakistan’s thrilling win put India out of contention for a spot in the final of Asia Cup 2022.
Pakistan’s slide began in the 16th over when Iftikhar Ahmed pulled a slower ball from Fareed Ahmad straight into the hands of deep midwicket, ending a 42-run stand for the fourth wicket with Shadab Khan. Afghanistan struck again in the following over through its best bowler Rashid Khan, who got the better of Shadab with a flighted leg-spinner outside off stump, redeeming himself after conceding a six off the first ball of the over. Ace finisher Asif Ali announced his arrival with a six off the very next ball. The topsy-turvy nature of the over was a signal of things to come.
With Pakistan needing 25 runs to win off the last three overs, Farooqi did exactly what the Afghans were hoping for - take wickets. He trapped Mohammad Nawaz leg-before-wicket with a slower delivery off the first ball of the 18th over and struck again off the last ball as Khushdil Shah chopped onto his stumps.
In the span of one over, the tide had turned in Afghanistan’s favour. Pakistan, however, had its death-overs trump card Asif Ali left to get 21 runs off the last two overs. Haris Rauf got an inside edge onto his stumps off the second ball of the 19th over before Ahmad banged in a short and slow one, inducing a miscued hook from Asif. The ball ballooned up to short fine-leg, where Karim Janat backpedalled and took the catch.
The magnitude of the wicket and the intensity of the moment spilled over into a mid-pitch confrontation between Asif and Ahmad. Words were exchanged and Asif briefly raised his bat, bordering on a threat. With Pakistan needing 11 runs off the last over with one wicket remaining, Afghanistan would have believed it had shut the door on its eastern neighbour, while Indian cricket fans, further down south, were likely looking up with gleeful disbelief. An Afghanistan win would have kept India alive for a shot at making the final.
However, pressure got the better of Farooqi, who had figures of three for 19 before the start of the final over. He missed his lengths (attempted yorkers) as No. 10 batter Naseem cleared long-off off the first two deliveries to seal a thrilling one-wicket win and set up a Pakistan versus Sri Lanka clash for the continental title.
Thirty-seven years ago, at the same venue, India had defended a similarly low total (125) by bowling out Pakistan for 87. On Wednesday, India did not have its fate in its own hands.
India plays its last match of the tournament on Thursday against Afghanistan. Ahead of the T20 World Cup in Australia next month, India would be keen on getting its combinations in place. After the Asia Cup, India is scheduled to play three T20Is against Australia and as many T20Is and ODIs versus South Africa at home before leaving for the World Cup.