Umar Akmal hit a fighting century to help Pakistan overcome early wobbles against Afghanistan to win their crucial Asia Cup match by 72 runs in Dhaka on Thursday.
Pakistan owed their recovery to Akmal’s 89-ball 102 not out, which lifted them from a precarious 117-6 to 248-8 in 50 overs, before they wrapped up their rivals for 176 in 47.2 overs.
Afghanistan, playing their inaugural match in the five-nation tournament, impressed despite the defeat — but their lack of experience stopped them from causing an upset.
Chasing a daunting target, Afghanistan were 139-2 in the 36th over, before losing their last eight wickets for 37 runs as Mohammad Hafeez (three for 29) and Saeed Ajmal (two for 25) gave Pakistan a win with a bonus point.
Asghar Stanikzai (40) and Nawroz Mangal (35) shared a 74-run partnership for the third wicket, but they failed to match the required net run rate, which climbed on them, undoing their chase.
Shahid Afridi dismissed Stanikzai to break the partnership, before Mangal ran himself out to spark a collapse.
Noor Ali Zadran had given Afghanistan a solid start with a 63-ball 44 with seven fours, before he fell victim to Ajmal’s dot balls.
Hafeez had Najibullah Zadran (1) and Samiullah Shinwari (14) to complete the win.
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq praised his rivals.
“Afghanistan stuck to the basics, and hit the lengths and lines that they planned. They really made it hard to score runs and they’re a really good side, and their fielding effort was impressive too,” Misbah said. “The match was almost out of our hands, but it was one of the best innings from Akmal that led a very good fightback.”
Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi said Akmal’s innings made the difference.
“Akmal played very well in the end to put a big total on the board. Dropping him was the turning point,” he said.
It was Akmal who saved Pakistan’s blushes with a dominating second one-day century — his first in five years. In all he hit seven fours and three sixes, helping Pakistan to put on 59 runs in the final five overs.
Akmal, let off on 28, led the fightback through a 60-run seventh-wicket stand with Anwar Ali (21) to lift Pakistan’s innings.
Pakistan, put into bat, began fluently with a stand of 55 between Ahmed Shehzad (50), who hit seven fours in his 74-ball innings, and Sharjeel Khan (25).
However, once spinner Hamza Hotak (one for 22) had provided the breakthrough by dismissing Khan, Afghanistan grabbed six wickets in the space of 62 runs.
Hafeez fell for 10, Misbah was run out for a duck without facing a ball, Sohaib Maqsood went for 13 and Shahid Afridi for 6.
Misbah, the world’s highest run scorer in one-day cricket last year, was the dismissal which jolted Pakistan badly, but Akmal held the innings together to ensure Pakistan reached a respectable total.
Mirwais Ashraf, Shinwari and Dawlat Zadran took two wickets apiece.
India, who beat Bangladesh by six wickets, were due to face Sri Lanka yesterday. Sri Lanka won the tournament opener by 12 runs against Pakistan on Tuesday.