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Pakistan hold nerves to clinch humdinger

Mirpur: Shahid ‘boom boom’ Afridi showed once again that he still has it in him to turn a match on its head. The stage was set for his pyrotechnics on Sunday and he didn’t disappoint.

The former Pakistan captain hasn’t been the man in form of late, but he showed his prowess as he turned the clock back when it mattered most. The fall of wickets at the other end made little impact and he went about the task in his own inimitable style.

Pakistan needed 10 off the last over with Afridi and Saeed Ajmal at the crease. Ravichandran Ashwin dismissed Ajmal with a carrom ball off the first delivery and then last-man Junaid Khan took a single to put Afridi back on strike.

The challenge was enough to spur on Afridi as he hoisted the off-spinner for two consecutive sixes, over extra cover and long-on, to seal victory with two balls to spare. His 34 not out off 18 balls included two fours and three sixes.

Not surprisingly, Virat Kohli appeared dazed. Pakistan’s one-wicket victory had all but ended India’s chances in the Asia Cup.

If Afridi had provided the icing on the cake, Mohammed Hafeez laid the foundation with an innings typical of his grit and patience.

Despite running out Misbah-ul Haq and dropping the simplest of chances off Ravindra Jadeja, his 75 off 117 balls provided the solidity after Pakistan had almost made a hash of the 246-run chase against the spinners.

Add to this, Hafeez’s blinder of a catch to send back a fluent Rohit Sharma and figures of two for 38 in nine overs. Pakistan’s T20 captain put on 87 runs for the fifth wicket with Sohaib Maqsood to bring them on track after Amit Mishra had almost ruined their chase.

Mishra, who last played an ODI in October last year, extracted enough spin and bounce from the wicket to trouble the batsmen. His 8-0-16-2 opening spell almost ruined Pakistan’s hopes before Hafeez and Afridi took charge.

Earlier, none of the Indian batsmen showed the zeal to build on their innings and instead fell victim to poor shots after having done all the hard work.

If Rohit gave the early momentum to the innings with 56 off 58 balls, Ambati Rayudu did some good work to cement his place in the middle-order with a 58 off 62 balls. But it was Jadeja’s scratchy 52 not out off 49 deliveries which ensured Pakistan had to chase 246.

Misbah won the toss and chose to bowl, citing the possibility of the dew factor.

Pakistan opened the bowling with Hafeez in an attempt to curb the attacking flair of Shikhar Dhawan. After the left-hander’s initial flamboyance, Hafeez had Dhawan trapped in front, when he tried to whip him off the back foot.

Kohli fell victim to Umar Gul in a manner in which he has fallen prey often in the recent past.

Mohammed Talha then provided two telling blows to reduce India to 113 for four in 25 overs.

It was mainly because of these setbacks that the Indians struggled in the middle-overs.