Relief as Pakistan keep their World Cup hopes alive

THERE was an hilarious moment before this match that would have been lost on the thousands of Asian cricket supporters cheering, chanting and blowing horns inside and outside the ground.

Sunday, 30th June 2019, 9:02 am
Victory: Pakistan's Imad Wasim, left, and Wahab Riaz celebrate at Headingley. Picture: Nigel French/PA

“Ladies and gentlemen, could I remind you please to keep your mobile phones on silent so that they do not disturb the players during the game,” advised the match-day announcer, straining to be heard above the deafening din a good hour or so before a ball had been bowled.

As entreaties go, it was a bit like asking thousands of teenage girls to keep quiet during a Justin Bieber concert, or imploring thousands of women to refrain from throwing their underwear at Tom Jones.

Sure enough, the sound of a ringtone would scarcely have been audible from a few seats away, let alone out on the field, as the fans of Pakistan and Afghanistan made for a raucous, intensely colourful atmosphere at Headingley on Saturday, albeit one which saw scuffles around the stadium as enthusiasm boiled over unacceptably at times.

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“Pakistan… Zindabad. Pakistan… Zindabad,” they chanted in the swaying stands, bedecked with green and white, with the Pakistan contingent making up the vast majority of the sell-out crowd.

“Victory to Pakistan” is the translation and, as trumpets blared and drums were beaten from first ball to last, the battle cry was answered as they defeated Afghanistan by three wickets, thereby maintaining their hopes of reaching the semi-finals.

Already eliminated after seven straight defeats, Afghanistan scored 227-9 from their 50 overs, a respectable effort if not one to send shivers through the Pakistan ranks.

It was an extraordinarily nervy chase, however, Pakistan winning with two balls left thanks to an unbeaten 49 from Imad Wasim, whose winning boundary was followed by a pitch invasion and ugly scenes.

Earlier, many supporters were still outside the ground, choking Kirkstall Lane and St Michael’s Lane, when play began in glorious sunshine on the hottest day of the year so far.

Afghanistan chose to bat on a good pitch, but Pakistan – who would have batted too – made early inroads as the decibel levels reached fever pitch.

Shaheen Afridi, the 19-year-old left-arm quick, struck twice with successive balls in the fifth over to have Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib caught behind on review (umpire Nigel Llong presumably unable to hear the faintest of nicks) and Hashmatullah Shahidi held at mid-off from a leading edge.

When Rahmat Shah knocked up another leading edge to cover off left-arm spinner Imad, the score was 57-3 at the end of the 12th.

Enter Asghar Afghan, who, with a name like that, was presumably always destined to play for his country. He does not “die wondering”, as the saying goes, and he launched two sixes into the West Stand before perishing trying for a third, bowled by leg-spinner Shadab Khan for the joint top-score of 42 from 35 balls.

Afghan shared 64 in 14 overs with wicketkeeper Ikram Alikhil, who found long-on in the next over as 121-3 suddenly became 125-5.

Najibullah Zadran helped his side past 200 with 42 from 54 before playing on to Shaheen, who also had Rashid Khan caught at mid-off to end with 4-47.

The Afghan supporters were jumping up and down and waving their flags with joy when Fakhar Zaman fell to the second ball of the reply, lbw to off-spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman.

They cheered twice, in fact - once when he was given out on the field and then again after a failed review, Michael Vaughan taking to Twitter to declare that “the upset is happening”.

Not this time, though, although Pakistan wobbled horribly as Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam fell in quick succession after adding 72 for the second wicket, Imam stumped taking extravagant aim at off-spinner Mohammad Nabi, who bowled Babar around his legs for 45.

Mohammad Hafeez sliced to point, and Pakistan would have been 124-5 had left-arm spinner Samiulla Shinwari not dropped a firm but straightforward return chance when Sarfaraz had two.

After Haris Sohail was lbw to Rashid Khan, Sarfaraz was run out as Pakistan fell from 121-3 to 156-6.

At that stage, they needed 72 from 11 overs, but Imad – who should have been caught in the covers off Nabi when Afghan inexplicably lost sight of the ball – added 50 in eight overs with Shadab, whose late run-out made little difference. A disastrous late over from Gulbadin cost 18, Wahab Riaz contributing an invaluable, unbeaten 15.