Wunderbar!! Pakistan face Afghanistan in Hambantota

Michael Roberts

The Afghanistan vs Pakistan three match series being played out at Hambantota in Sri Lanka ……. YES, YES, in Hambantota if you happen to know where that is … snuck up and into my world in distant Australia with quite a bang – only after the outcome of the second 50-over ODI. The BANG lay in the scores: when a side reaches 302 runs and by a whisker in the last over, it is quite a bang: clearly an outstanding match (with Shadab Khan, Imam ul-Haq and Babar Asam standing out for Pakistan and the young opening batsmen Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran hitting the straps for Afghanistan)

Babar Azam 






I do not (yet) have any knowledge about the reasons WHY this series is taking place in Sri Lanka — though my guess is that Afghanistan is serving as the hosts and its sponsors considered Sri Lanka an economical location. This decision, moreover, must be one of the factors that has resulted in a good sprinkling of top-drawer players from the two countries participating in the Lanka Premier League T20 Tournament held between 31 July and 20 August that involved five teams (this list includes Babar Azam, Imam ul-Haq, Mohammed Nabi, Gurbaz, Naseem Shah and Hasan Ali).

Those matches were played in Kandy, Dambulla and Colombo; and the sponsors can count their monetary bagels with praise to Allah for aligning the weather gods in its support. August can be quite a wet month in the island’s south-western region. In contrast, Hambantota can promise better weather, besides the attractions of the Yala and Bundala wildlife parks.

Elephant at Bundala …pix by Roberts 







Leopard at water — Pix by Marcel Bandaranaike


Srinidhi Ramanujam, 24 August 2023, at ESPNcricinfo, …… “Gurbaz 151 in vain as Pakistan hold nerve in last-over thriller” …..

Pakistan clinched an epic last-over thriller against Afghanistan to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the ODI series, in Hambantota on Thursday. Chasing 301, Pakistan, somehow, narrowly escaped a defeat and kept their unbeaten ODI record intact against the hosts, having registered their sixth win in as many games.
The match came down to 11 runs needed off the final over and Shadab Khan going strong unbeaten on 48. Pakistan had two wickets in hand. And then some drama, as it so often happens in an encounter between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Fazalhaq Farooqi ran the allrounder out backing up right at the start of the last over. Shadab was way out of the crease before Farooqi delivered the ball and replays confirmed the run-out. Naseem Shah, however, kept his cool and slammed the first ball of the last over for a four past long-off.
The equation soon came down to six off three balls with Haris Rauf on strike. A misfield at the deep midwicket region then helped Pakistan fetch three runs and with three needed off two balls and just a wicket in hand, Naseem Shah‘s thick outside edge past short third took the visitors home.
It meant a memorable batting performance by Afghanistan went in vain. Rahmanullah Gurbaz‘s epic 151 and Ibrahim Zadran‘s classy 80 had led the team to 300 for 5 after they were bowled out for 59 in the opening ODI. But in the end, it wasn’t enough to secure their first victory over Pakistan in this format.

Imam, Babar and Shadab shine

Pakistan recovered well after losing Fakhar Zaman early, with Imam-ul-Haq top-scoring with 91 and sharing a century stand with Babar Azam for the second wicket. Imam looked like the most comfortable batter in the line-up, ticking along by mostly running ones and twos. His 105-ball knock had just four fours, but kept Pakistan’s required run-rate under control. Babar, who was out for duck in the first game, played a steady 53. But his wicket off Farooqi in the 31st over opened the gates and offered Afghanistan a way back.
Pakistan lost three key wickets for three runs inside ten balls. Mohammed Nabi struck twice in the 38th over to dismiss Agha Salma and Usama Mir, who was promoted up ahead of Shadab and Iftkhar Ahmed. Mujeeb Ur Rahman then got the big wicket of Imam in the next over with the equation coming down to 56 from 30 balls.
The game was still evenly poised. Though Pakistan lost Iftikhar and Shaheen Afridi in the 47th and 48th over respectively, Shadab kept attacking, blazing three fours and a six in his 35-ball innings. His cameo was crucial in Pakistan bringing the equation down to 11 off the final over and chasing down the big total. It also earned him the Player-of-the-Match award.

Gurbaz, Zadran power Afghanistan to 300

Two days ago, Afghanistan faltered in a chase of 202 and registered their second-lowest total in ODIs. But on Thursday, two determined 21-year-olds born a few weeks apart, powered Afghanistan to their highest ODI total against Pakistan.
The openers played out almost 40 overs and scored at a brisk rate on a surface covered with grass and offering bounce. It was also a different track than the one for the first ODI that assisted spinners. Gurbaz and Zadran’s massive opening stand extended to 227 and was finally broken by legspinner Usama Mir when the former holed out to long-off. By that time, Afghanistan had touched the par score.
Gurbaz, who expressed his intent from the beginning by coming down the track against the pace, found boundaries regularly to reach fifty in 72 deliveries. Despite experiencing some pain in his left forearm, Gurbaz kept going and brought up his fifth ODI hundred in 122 balls. His best over of the innings came against Rauf, the bowler who rattled Afghanistan with five wickets in the opening game, in the 37th over when he greeted the pacer with four back-to-back fours.
On the way to his career-best score, Gurbaz achieved a few feats: he became the first wicketkeeper to score 150-plus in men’s ODIs against Pakistan, his 151 is the third highest individual ODI score by any batter in Sri Lanka.
On the other hand, Zadran kick-started his innings quietly but got on with the act as the innings progressed. He took 71 balls to reach his fourth ODI fifty, in the 30th over. Playing in his 16th ODI, he crossed 50 for the eighth time on Thursday, showing the temperament for the 50-over format. In his 101-ball knock, Zadran hit six fours and two sixes.
For Pakistan, their short-ball tactic proved futile against the openers who either played it down the ground or pulled away for boundaries. Afridi came back in the 45th over to remove Gurbaz and Rashid Khan, but it was too late for a Pakistan turnaround. Naseem was also in the wicket chart with a dismissal of Nabi in the final over, but neither the spinners nor seamers could break the Afghanistan spirit early in the innings.
Afghanistan’s spirit, however, would eventually break at the end.

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