August 22 2023: Afghanistan's spinners did well to restrict Pakistan to 201, but the team had no answers in the chase, crumbling inside 20 overs
Fast bowlers having batters hopping and swaying away is the perfect fire to the ice that is spinners having batters in a tangle. In Hambantota on Tuesday, the joy of watching bowlers do their thing reached a perfect crescendo.
First, the spin trio of Afghanistan - Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi - spun Pakistan out for 201. Then, Pakistan's pace treble of Haris Rauf, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah put in a fiery display to bundle Afghanistan out for 59, their second lowest ODI total, to win the first ODI in Hambantota by 142 runs.
Rauf picked up five wickets for 18, his best effort in ODIs, after Afridi and Naseem started the Afghan downfall. Afridi began by bouncing Ibrahim Zadran out in his second over before having Rahmat Shah flick a full toss to short midwicket off his next ball. Naseem, who had Gurbaz in a leash with his high pace and movement, dismissed Hashmatullah Shahidi off a bouncer. It got big on Shahidi, who went for the pull and almost cleared forward square leg. But Shadab Khan jumped towards his left and lobbed the ball up, before catching it in a single motion while landing down to dismiss the Afghanistan captain.
With three of the top four batters out for a duck, there was not much to write home about of the rest of the Afghanistan batting show either. Rauf began his spell with a nip-backer that Ikram Alikhil, playing an ODI for the first time since November 2019, inside-edged to the wicketkeeper. Gurbaz was never comfortable throughout his stay and feathered an outside edge to the wicketkeeper for 18, the top score of the innings.
Azmatullah Omarzai attacked his way to 16 off 12 with three fours before retiring hurt, even as Rauf ran through the middle order and finished with a five-for after Mujeeb miscued one to mid-on.
Earlier, on a hot afternoon, Babar Azam won the toss and Pakistan opted to bat on a dry surface but were reduced to 7 for 2 in two overs. Left-arm pacer Fazalhaq Farooqi troubled Fakhar Zaman with swing before nicking him off to slip. He slipped in an inswinging yorker on the second ball before getting one to move away, which Fakhar couldn't resist poking. Mujeeb, opening the bowling, slipped one full in line of the stumps that skid on, beating Babar's defence to trap him lbw for a three-ball blob.
Mohammad Rizwan, back at No. 4 after batting at No. 5 in the previous series against New Zealand, looked to be positive from the get-go. He stroked Farooqi for two fours in the fifth over. First, he lofted a full ball aerially through the gap at extra cover before caressing one through the same region a ball later. Rizwan hit two more fours off Farooqi's next over to get Pakistan's run-rate up.
But Mujeeb, in his fourth over, trapped Rizwan lbw to set Pakistan back. He tossed up a carrom ball around leg that Rizwan missed in his attempted defence to the on side to be hit on the back leg. Replays showed it would have clipped the bails. Agha Salman, coming off a successful series against New Zealand at home in May, was stuck before being flummoxed by a googly from Rashid as Pakistan stumbled to 62 for 4.
All the while, Imam-ul-Haq steadily carried on, punishing the bad balls from Farooqi but more importantly, playing Mujeeb, Rashid as well as Nabi's spin off the back foot. His half-century was a proper graft, in that it included just the two fours. He ran well between the stumps even as wickets fell around him.
But in a bid to up the ante against Nabi, he top-edged one after coming down the track. However, Shahidi couldn't hang on after running back from cover. Imam got another life when a lofted drive to deep cover was shelled by Omarzai before a miscued pull fell just short of long-on running in. However, Imam's luck ran out when he looked to hit Nabi over mid-on, miscuing a shot to Rashid, who took a tumbling catch after backpedalling.
Through his stay in the middle, Imam found an able ally first in Iftikhar Ahmed, with whom he added 50 off 69 for the fifth wicket, and then in Shadab for a 40-run partnership.
Iftikhar helped lead Pakistan's recovery by using the crease against spin and knocking them down for singles and doubles. He did not let short and wide deliveries go unpunished, using the cut shot for each of his two fours. But an offspinning delivery from Nabi, that held up in the surface, saw him chip a catch to short midwicket.
On the other hand, Shadab, playing just his fourth ODI in 2023, picked Rashid's googly early and smacked him over his head. He added a further 34 with Naseem for the ninth wicket before a direct hit from Mujeeb from fine leg saw him run-out at the bowler's end.
Afghanistan managed to bowl out Pakistan for the first time in ODIs, but a meek batting surrender meant their wait for a maiden win against their opponents in the format continues.
In the interim Mujeeb and Rashid has also cleaned up Usama Mir and Shaheen Shah Afridi to hasten Pakistan's end. Mujeeb returned three wickets while Rashid and Nabi finished with two apiece as Afghanistan bowled Pakistan out for the first time in ODIs. It was scant consolation at the end.