After centurions Babar Azam and Iftikhar Ahmed took the clueless Nepal bowlers to the cleaners at the Multan Cricket Stadium, the batters surrendered against top-notch Pakistani pace bowling attack, handing the hosts their first win of the tournament.
On a batting beauty, both Babar and Iftikhar went hammer and tongs, lifting Pakistan to 342 for 6. The Shaheen Afridi-led bowling attack then ran through the Nepalese top-order with the new balls, deciding the fate of the match very early in the second innings. Haris Rauf and spinners then wrapped up the proceedings quickly as Nepal folded for 104 in the 24th over.
The win is now Pakistan’s third biggest in terms of runs in ODIs.
Here’s a look at the key moments of the Pakistan vs Nepal Asia Cup opener.
As It Happened
After skipper Babar Azam won the toss and opted to bat, Nepal bowlers made early inroads, removing openers Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq inside the first seven overs. While Zaman fell chasing a wide Karan KC delivery outside off for 14, Imam terribly misjudged a run as Rohit Paudel pulled off a superb direct hit, getting rid of the left-hander for 5. Skipper Babar and Mohammad Rizwan then joined hands to stitch an 86-run third-wicket partnership, steadying the hosts after early setbacks. But then, against the run of play, Rizwan got run out in the 24th over in a bizarre manner for 44. Leggie Sandeep Lamichhane then got rid of Agha Salman for 5 as Nepal looked to take advantage of the double breakthroughs.
Babar, Iftikhar show
At just over the halfway mark, Pakistan found themselves struggling a bit at 124 for 4 when Iftikhar Ahmed joined Babar in the middle. While his skipper continued to build the innings, Iftikhar looked a bit more proactive, taking on the Nepal bowlers. The duo batted beautifully against the Nepal bowlers, respecting the occasional good balls and dispatching the bad one regularly to the fence. As the partnership between Babar and Iftikhar kept one going, Nepal found themselves under pressure, bowling too many bad balls along with quite a few misfields. As Babar raised his 19th ODI ton off 109 balls in the 42nd over, he then took, scoring his next 50 runs in no time. As boundaries rained, Iftikhar got to his maiden three-figure mark off just 67 balls. The mammoth 131-ball 214 partnership was eventually broken in the final over.
Firing a superb 151, Babar became the fastest batter to score 19 ODI hundreds. The 28-year-old raced to his 19th ton in his 102nd innings, bettering the record of former South Africa batter Hashim Amla, who took 104 innings. With the ton, Babar also drew level with Pakistan legends Javed Miandad and Saeed Anwar as he now has 31 international hundreds under his belt — 19 in ODIs, 9 in Tests and 3 in T20Is. The 150-plus score was also Babar’s second in the format. Iftikhar, at the other end, fired his maiden ton of the format and became the fastest centurion (67 balls) in ODIs in Pakistan. Pakistan scored a massive 129 runs in the final 10 overs to finish at a towering 342 for 6.
The renowned Pakistani pace attack got going in style as Shaheen Afridi (2/27) grabbed a couple of wickets in the very first over of the chase. After Kushal Bhurtel was caught behind for 8, the very next ball was a Afridi special, a fiery yorker, tailing back into Rohit Paudel and trapping him in front for a golden duck. In the very next over, Naseem Shah (1/17) removed Aasif Sheikh for 5 as Nepal found themselves reeling at 14 for 3 inside the first two overs.
After the top-order collapse, Aarif Sheikh (26) and Sompal Kami (28) did manage to survive Shaheen Afridi and Naseem Shah onslaught, adding 59 runs for the fourth wicket. But then, they were up against the sheer pace of Haris Rauf (2/16). The speed merchant clocked 150 kph deliveries at will, rattling both Sheikh and Sompal. As both fell in the 15th and the 17th overs respectively, it triggered another collapse for Nepal. Shadab Khan (4/27) and Mohammad Nawaz (1/13) then wrapped up things pretty quickly as Nepal folded for 104 in 23.4 overs.