UAE’s decision to bat seemed a bit like someone doing away with the veggies so they could get to the meat quicker. All their captain Amjad Javed hoped for was “120 to 130” runs; they got 129. Pakistan tried to sink their teeth into the target and suddenly found it was more than they could chew. The top three fell by the time the fourth over of the chase began, but Shoaib Malik andUmar Akmal buckled down and took Pakistan to a seven-wicket victory in Mirpur.
While that margin indicates it was all hunky dory, Javed’s new-ball burst and the way he could rally his team together had given UAE a strong chance to record their first victory against a Full Member. He took three wickets off his first seven balls to make his team believe, and then made sure they did not waver by slinging his arm around every one of his bowlers while he was at the top of his run-up and clapping his hands until they stung.
Pakistan were 17 for 3 when Akmal and Malik got together. They recognised the momentum was with UAE, but knew they could turn it around. They just had to bide their time, to keep their wickets intact and take the chase deep so that the ball wouldn’t be swinging and their experience could trump UAE’s adrenaline. The first boundary of their fourth-wicket partnership came off the 15th ball and the next one came off the 31st but overhauling a target of 130 doesn’t take pyrotechnics. Just patience.
There was a moment when UAE could have stormed back. With 40 runs to win from 26 balls, Malik dragged a Mohammad Shahzad bouncer from outside off and the resulting top-edge seemed destined for deep square leg’s hands but Usman Mushtaq, who was brought into the XI in place of Saqlain Haider, dropped it. Malik reached his fifty with a four and a six off the next two balls he faced and along with Akmal sealed Pakistan’s victory with their unbeaten 114-run partnership.
Javed was in uproar when the catch went down. He could have had a match-winning three-wicket haul after all. He dismissed Sharjeel Khan lbw, but replays showed the ball would have climbed over the stumps. Two balls later, Khurram Manzoor was caught behind playing an unwise cut against a rising ball that didn’t give him the requisite room to free his arms.
Javed’s final wicket of the night though came about because of the room he offered to the batsman. Mohammad Hafeez thought he had an easy put away through the covers but failed to keep his drive down much to the glee of one of UAE’s best fielder Fahad Tariq. The one over he saved for the death turned out to be dreadful as Malik and Akmal caned 23 off it to pull ahead.
That Pakistan would need to huff and puff a bit had not seemed likely when they had UAE at 12 for 3 in four overs. Mohammad Amir was in the thick of things again, bowling a first over that went for only one run and following up with a second that had five dot balls and an indipper that squeezed through Muhammad Kaleem’s limp defences. At the other end, Mohammad Sami made Rohan Mustafa pay for driving on the up by summoning some extra bounce. The batsman spooned a simple catch to mid-off and extra bounce from the seven-foot tall Mohammad Irfan accounted for Mohammad Shahzad.
Pakistan were barely at full throttle. They even rested their fastest bowler Wahab Riaz to give left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz an international debut. But the rest stacked enough balls around middle and off stump to capitalise on the batsmen’s mistakes.
Shaiman Anwar stuck it out for 46 off 42 balls, but he may have been helped by Pakistan resorting to spin soon after the Powerplay. Shahid Afridi brought himself on, at the other end came Nawaz and UAE found some relief. They were 20 for 3 and going nowhere, but seven overs of slow bowling got them to 70 for 4. Anwar even took Afridi for a hat-trick of fours – a cut right through the point fielder, a beautiful loft over extra cover and a superbly-timed sweep. Lucky over 13 yielded 17 runs, the most UAE have scored in one over against a Full Member in T20Is.
There had been plenty of plays and misses because the UAE batsmen had not faced quick bowlers of this quality. At the 2015 World Cup, then captain Mohammad Tauqir had been shocked at the South Africa quicks roughing up their batsmen with bouncers. Here too, the company of Amir, Irfan and Sami were outclassing them. Amir had 21 dot balls out of 24, Irfan and Sami had 15 apiece.
Still, UAE went down swinging in their death overs as edges and mis-hits flew to the boundary to get a total that gave them a chance. But once again, they couldn’t seal the deal and are now out of the Asia Cup.
Courtesy ESPN CricInfo