Afridi stars in Pakistan triumph

March 15, 2016 Off By Web Desk

Kolkata: Burying Asia Cup demons, Pakistan started its World T20 Championship in style as its batsmen posted a mammoth 201 for 5, led by Shahid Afridi’s flamboyant 19-ball 49 against Bangladesh eventually recording a comprehensive 55-run victory in its Group 2 ICC World Twenty20 2016 opener here Wednesday in front of a sizeable Eden Gardens crowd.

The foundation was laid by Ahmed Shahzad (39-ball 52) and Mohammad Hafeez (42-ball 64), on a pitch that had runs in it. They put on 95 for the third wicket, before Afridi, ailed by a fever in the build-up to the match, hammered Bangladesh. The captain also returned 2 for 27, scalping the important duo of Tamim Iqbal and Sabbir Rahman, to take the sting out of Bangladesh’s chase, even as Shakib Al Hasan ended unbeaten on a 40-ball 50.

Perhaps things would have been different had Tamim got rid of Sharjeel Khan when he mistimed a lob in the first over. He didn’t backtrack in time and the opportunity to pile pressure was lost. Sharjeel hit two hefty sixes during a ten-ball 18, before falling to Arafat Sunny, but the blast had set the tone.

Shahzad – included in the squad in place of Khurram Manzoor after a disappointing Asia Cup – was a treat to watch, with his crisp drives and handsome lofts. At the other end, Hafeez did justice to his nickname, ‘the Professor’, reading the bowlers well and stepping out expertly to negate the spinners. The two were also excellent between the wickets. The boundaries continued to flow from both willows, and when receiving good deliveries, they put away the singles.

The 100-mark was crossed in just 11.2 overs. Shahzad brought up his half-century in just 35 balls. With wickets in hand and plenty of runs already on board, the batsmen had licence to attack. Shahzad fell attempting to do so, a helicopter shot off Sabbir Rahman going straight to deep midwicket.

But it mattered not as Afridi walked in. There was a rushed single off the first ball he faced, but thereafter, it was all boom boom. In the 15th over, it was captain vs captain as Mashrafe Mortaza ran in with his medium pace; 18 runs came off the over, Afridi playing an incredulous lap-sweep and a flick off a full toss that went all the way for six.

The runs kept flowing, but with the death overs approaching and batsmen taking more risks, wickets came quickly as well. Perhaps it was fitting that it needed a piece of brilliance in the field to dismiss Hafeez. Soumya Sarkar raced to a flat pull to midwicket off Sunny, and though he caught it, had to fling it in the air even as momentum took him over the ropes. He jumped back in, and reclaimed it at full stretch to complete an exhilarating catch.

It was all Afridi thereafter. He holed out in the final over, but the job was half done.

Bangladesh valiantly attempted to keep pace, despite Mohammad Amir running through Soumya with his third ball. Sabbir then put away the boundaries to keep the scoreboard moving along, even as Tamim settled at the other end. Afridi was taken for a six and four before Sabbir was flummoxed by the googly.

Tamim took charge, lofting Malik down the ground for six. But he couldn’t provide much impetus, and holed out off Afridi. It left the middle order with the too much responsibility. They didn’t have much time settle down either. Mahmudullah holed out attempting a lavish sweep off Imad Wasim, and though Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib put on 39, they never came close to matching the needed run-rate.

The chase frittered away and, just like that, Pakistan’s campaign got a makeover.