Afghanistan vs Pakistan: An underrated rivalry turned on its head in Sharjah
Afghanistan registered their first-ever victory over Pakistan in international cricket yesterday (March 24) when they won the first T20I of the three-match series in Sharjah. Here’s a look at the underrated yet fierce rivalry between the two teams and how Afghanistan finally broke down the door they have been banging on for quite some time.
February 10, 2012. Afghanistan have just been beaten by Pakistan in an ODI – the first international cricket match between these two nations. Shahid Afridi has been awarded Player of the Match for his 5-35, which restricted Afghanistan to a mere 195, allowing Pakistan to ease to victory within 38 overs.
Fast-forward 11 years. Same venue. Same two teams. But different formats and entirely different personnel. Only two players from that game are playing this one – Mohammad Nabi and Gulbadin Naib. Mohammad Nabi hits the winning runs for Afghanistan, defeating Pakistan for the first time in eight attempts and over a decade.
This victory has been a long time coming. While the records sat at 0-7 to Pakistan before yesterday’s match, the rivalry between these two teams has been anything but one-sided. Afghanistan have challenged Pakistan over the course of these seven games and have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of certain victories at least a couple of times.
The 2019 ODI World Cup
In a ten-team World Cup where you have some of the best talents on display from around the world, you would not expect an Afghanistan-Pakistan game to go down as one of the games of the tournament. And yet it did.
Afghanistan batted first and scratched their way to 227-9 in their 50 overs. As many as seven of their batters crossed 15, but none managed to get a half-century. At 72-1 in the 16th over, the Pakistan team and fans would have felt safe and secure. But those are qualities not associated with Pakistan cricket.
A few wickets later, they found themselves needing 72 runs off 66 balls with just four wickets in hand. After Rashid Khan bowled a dot ball on the first ball of the 49th over, Pakistan needed 16 off 11 with just three wickets left. At that point, Afghanistan could smell blood.
It was their chance to upset a much more fancied opponent on a global stage like the World Cup for the very first time. And perhaps the occasion got to them. They faltered. Rashid Khan was hit for a six. Gulbadin Naib, the captain, dished out full tosses in the last over, and Imad Wasim became the hero Pakistan needed.
The 2021 T20 World Cup
Afghanistan and Pakistan were facing off in a group-stage game in Dubai in the T20 World Cup. Afghanistan put up a decent total of 147-6 in their 20 overs and were keeping a lid on the scoring rate of the Pakistan top order, thanks to their world-class spinners.
At 101-3 after 15 overs, Pakistan needed 47 off the last five overs. 21 came off the next two overs, but Afghanistan were not going to let it slip this time. They followed it up with a two-run over, leaving Pakistan needing 24 off the last two. The only thing going in Pakistan’s favour at that stage was that the Afghanistan spinners had finished their quota of overs and it was down to the weakest link in the bowling attack to bowl the 19th.
Asif Ali, the designated finisher for Pakistan who had not done much in his international career before, smoked four sixes to finish the game off with an over to spare.
The 2022 Asia Cup
It was Sharjah again. The Asia Cup was being played in the T20 format. By then Afghanistan had grown as an international team, yet, the elusive win against one of the top teams on a big stage had not come.
They batted first and managed to struggle their way to 129-6 on an extremely sticky Sharjah wicket against a high-quality Pakistan bowling attack. It was never going to be enough. Until it looked like it could be.
With the score read 91-4 after 16 overs, Pakistan out of nowhere, needed to score 39 runs in the last four overs on a difficult surface. They lost five wickets in the next three overs and with 11 required off the last six balls with No.10 and 11 at the crease, Afghanistan looked destined to register their first win over Pakistan.
That was before Naseem Shah, who had no batting history at the international stage, hit two consecutive sixes and decided to delay destiny.
It is only fitting then, that when destiny finally arrived for Afghanistan, it arrived in Sharjah, the place where it all began. While the stakes were not as high yesterday (March 24) as they were on several occasions earlier, Afghanistan have every reason to cherish the victory and celebrate it. It has taken them 11 years to complete this maiden victory, and they have a realistic chance of repeating the feat in the second match of the series tomorrow (March 26).