Naseem Shah

Naseem Shah, the teenager from Lower Dir, is known for disturbing batters with his raw pace, but who knew that this kid could pull off a miracle with the bat too. He sent the whole Pakistan nation into a frenzy, with two mighty sixes to book Pakistan’s ticket to the final of the Asia Cup.

Sharjah stadium was on its feet when Fazalhaq Farooqi came to bowl the last over for Afghanistan against Pakistan’s last two batters (Naseem Shah and Mohammad Hasnain) requiring eleven runs to win. There was little hope in the Pakistan camp, and Afghanistan had confidence on their side, along with the expectations and prayers of Indians. Afghanistan’s victory could have left a chance for India to still qualify for the finals.

Farooqi approaches his bowling mark for the last over, with the bowling figures of 3-19 off his last three overs, his wickets included captain Babar Azam, Mohammad Nawaz, and Khushdil Shah. Naseem Shah on the other hand was feeling the heat, after the dismissal and an ugly altercation between Asif Ali and  the Afghan bowler in the last over.

Naseem takes guard, Farooqi sprints to the bowling crease, strides in, and misses the yorker length. Naseem swings the bat, it connects, and out goes the ball… right into the hands of Afghan fans in the stands. But the victory was still one hit away.

On the next ball, another full toss, another swing, and for the briefest fraction in time, the ball hovers in the air within reach of the long-off fielder. The hopes of the three nations were up in the air, however, like the climax of a Bollywood sports movie, the ball teases everyone from the fielder to the batter to the fans, and lands just outside the boundary line for the six.

Naseem knew that he has pulled off a miracle, just like Miandad did back in 1986 on the same Sharjah soil. The adrenaline rush was visible on his face, he drops his bat, and helmet while sprinting towards the onrushing Pakistan players and staff.

On the other side, the Afghanistan team was on their knees, some of them were crying having come so close yet so far from victory. They have fought hard to defend the small total of 130 against an experienced Pakistani batting line up. They looked like a formidable bowling unit, under the mentorship of Umar Gul, even though they are out of Asia Cup, but the way they have bowled is an alarming sign for every team in the upcoming World T20 in Australia.

Pakistan team was confident about chasing this total easily, after chasing 181 runs against India in the last game. The fans expected a one-sided affair, however, Pakistan batting collapsed against Afghan bowlers, keeping their unpredictable title intact. They looked clueless against spinners, scoring only 59 runs off 11 overs. Shadab Khan, who was promoted to the No. 5 spot, was the only man who posed a threat to Afghan spinners. However, once he perished, Afghanistan dominated the game again.

This was a game to remember for Pakistan for ages, just like the game against India in Asia Cup 2014 when Shahid Afridi sealed the deal with two sixes to Ashwin in the final over. Team India was also knocked out from Asia Cup 2022 with this loss for Afghanistan, as they were banking on Afghanistan to stop Pakistan in their tracks to reach the finals. However, with the result, the next two Super Four games turn dead rubbers now. India will face Afghanistan, while Pakistan and Sri Lanka will square off once before meeting again in the finals of the Asia Cup.