Fatullah: Talented wicketkeeper-batsman Umar Akmal notched up a breezy century under pressure before the bowlers came to the party and guided Pakistan to a bonus-point 72-run victory over Afghanistan in the Asia Cup on Thursday.
Chasing a challenging target of 249, Afghanistan could only manage 176 in 47.2 overs in front of the disciplined Pakistan bowling attack.
Put in to bat, Pakistan rode on Akmal's scintillating batting effort to post 248 for eight in their quota of 50 overs on a sluggish pitch at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium.
The young batsman smashed unbeaten 102 off 89 balls after Pakistan were reduced to 117 for six inside 30 overs.
The 23-year-old, who scored 74 off 72 against Sri Lanka in the last match, clobbered three sixes and seven boundaries while helping his team recover from a precarious position.
Afghanistan, in reply, had a poor start as they lost opener Mohammad Shahzad (9) early. His partner, Noor Ali Zadran, played a few attractive shots at the other end.
Zadran made 44 off 63 deliveries and hit seven boundaries, before he was trapped in front by off-spinner Saeed Ajmal.
Asghar Stanikzai and Nawroz Mangal started the resurrection job for Afghanistan and tried to build a partnership. Though the duo put on a 74-run for the third wicket, they failed to get the spiralling asking rate down.
While Stanikzai consumed 91 deliveries for his 40, Mangal made 35 off 57 balls. Both hit three boundaries each in their 119-ball partnership. With the required rate steadily going beyond reach, Afghanistan batsman played shots and perished in pursuit of quick runs.
Afghanistan lost the wickets of Stanikzai and Mangal in a space of three balls.
Skipper Mohammad Nabi (15) and Najibullah Zadran (1) failed to make an impact in the run-chase as Afghanistan fell way short. The Afghan team faced difficulty in negotiating the Pakistan spin-trio led by Saeed Ajmal, who picked up two wickets while giving away just 25 runs in his nine overs.
Shahid Afridi (1 for 31) and Mohammad Hafeez (3 for 29), too, kept the opposition batsmen in check, besides chipping in with wickets. This after Akmal played the role of a saviour to perfection as he lifted Pakistan to a competitive total.
Akmal reached his three-figure mark with a huge six off the penultimate ball of the innings.
Things could have been entirely different had Samiullah Shenwari clung on to a straightforward skier at point when Akmal was on 28. Pakistan, at that stage, were 146 for six. And the right-hander made the opposition pay for the costly miss as he carted Afghanistan all round the park in the final overs.
Opener Ahmed Shehzad (50) contributed with a half-century and, along with Sharjeel Khan, got Pakistan off to a fine start, compiling 55 runs for the opening wicket before the latter was scalped for 25 off 37 balls. Sharjeel struck two fours and a six.
Next batsman Mohammad Hafeez (10) joined hands with Shehzad, but the duo could only add 23 runs before Mirwais Ashraf sent Hafeez back to the pavilion.
Shehzad's departure triggered a mini collapse and from 89 for two, Pakistan slumped to 117 for six. They lost four wickets for only 28 runs on the board.
The Asia Cup-debutants removed Sohaib Maqsood (13), skipper Misbah-ul-Haq (0) and allrounder Shahid Afridi (6) to put Pakistan in a spot of bother.
Leg-spinner Shenwari first cleaned up Shehzad, who hit seven fours in his knock, and then accounted for Maqsood, who made just 13.
Misbah was unlucky to be run-out without facing a ball, and Afridi, trying to slog, found his off-stump uprooted by Dawlat Zadran, sending the Afghanistan camp in jubilation.
But Akmal continued with his good form. For the seventh wicket, Akmal added 60 runs with Anwar Ali (21 off 36 balls) to calm down nerves in the Pakistan dressing room and followed it with a 50-run stand with Umar Gul (15).
The Afghanistan bowlers were wayward in the final part of the innings and undid their initial effort, letting Pakistan off the hook. They conceded 84 runs in the last 10 overs.
For Afghanistan, Mirwais Ashraf was the pick of the bowlers as he conceded just 29 runs in his eight overs, while grabbing two wickets. Shenwari (2 for 34) and Zadran (2 for 73) also picked up two wickets each, while Hamza Hotak (1 for 22) chipped in with one.
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