Wednesday, May 29, 2024

ICC: Brilliant Afridi etches name into Pakistan folklore with breath-taking new ball spell

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Photo Credit: ICC

Thirteen may be unlucky for some but that number proved an unforgettable blessing for Pakistan at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.

Not in 12 previous attempts had Pakistan beaten old rivals India at an ICC World Cup tournament but in a heavyweight Group 2 clash in Dubai, Babar Azam and his side finally ended that drought in memorable style with a famous ten-wicket victory.

Azam (68 not out) and Mohammad Rizwan (79 not out) steered Pakistan to victory but it was seamer Shaheen Afridi who laid the foundations with a near-unplayable new ball spell.

Afridi, 21, sent down left-arm rocket after left-arm rocket to reduce the Indian top order to smithereens and set the wheels in motion for a history-making day.

After his captain won the toss and opted to insert Virat Kohli’s India, Afridi delivered an unequivocal masterclass in white-ball fast bowling to leave Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul perplexed.

The unique cricketing spectacle made for a raucous atmosphere under the Dubai lights and as Afridi stormed in for the bout’s opening delivery, his jet-heeled ambitions were clear.

One of world cricket’s most expert exponents of firing in full and straight thunderbolts, Afridi required just three balls to get his eye in before sending Sharma packing on his very first delivery.

Afridi delivered a menacing, fast-paced yorker to pin the Indian ace on his crease and leave umpire Chris Gaffaney with one of the easier LBW decisions he’d have had to make throughout his extended international career.

Incoming batsman Kohli – and his astonishing limited overs record – successfully survived the next two deliveries but it didn’t take long for Afridi, a considerably more experienced campaigner than his age suggests, to re-find that opening over rhythm.

He conjured up yet another sumptuous in-swinger that proved too good for Rahul as the fellow Indian opener, and his impressive T20I average of 40, was bowled through the gate to trigger chaotic scenes among the jubilant Pakistani contingent.

Kohli (57) and Rishabh Pant – who struck a swashbuckling 39 including two remarkable one-handed sixes – spearheaded the Indian recovery but it was that man Afridi who once again grabbed another crucial breakthrough, returning to the fray at the death to dismiss the Indian skipper.

Kohli had batted in characteristically classy fashion to haul his team towards a competitive total but when Afridi had him well-caught behind by Rizwan in the 19th over, Indian momentum was once again derailed.

Afridi’s brilliant three for 31 from four overs marked him out as the Pakistan star of the show and after watching Babar and Rizwan polish off the chase in under 18 overs, he said: “We just tried to bowl in the right areas.

“It’s a really good feeling to win against India in the World Cup and it’s a special feeling for Pakistan – we planned and executed [this victory].

“The way Rizzy [Mohammad Rizwan] and Babar [Azam] finished the game and the way they played – credit goes to these two. It’s good for Pakistan to start well in our first game and we’re looking forward to more games.”

Babar and Rizwan got the job done in style as they masterfully navigated their way through the run chase to cap a famous, history-making triumph in the Middle East.

But there was no doubt who emerged as the real hero of the day for the cricket-adoring nation, with Afridi’s thrilling opening spell getting the ball rolling and indelibly etching his name in Pakistani folklore.

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