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Babar and Iftikhar centuries serve up Pakistan victory


Barbar Azam put up a masterclass in ODI batting, scoring 151 off 131 balls, to help Pakistan thump Nepal by 238 runs in the opening match of the 2023 Asia Cup.

On a tricky pitch in Multan, Nepal had made early breakthroughs to leave Pakistan in a precarious position. Babar consolidated the innings during that period, taking 72 balls to reach his fifty. Gradually, he increased the tempo and moved from 51 to 100 in 37 balls. Once he reached his hundred, he went into the T20 mode and smashed 51 off the next 22 balls.

Suryakumar Yadav recently said that ODIs are challenging because you have to bat like all three formats.  On Wednesday, Babar showed how to do it.

Babar and Ifthikar Ahmed, who smashed an unbeaten 109 off 71, added 214 off 131 balls in a fifth-wicket stand that lifted Pakistan to 342 for 6. Babar didn’t come out to field and Shadab Khan captained the side during the chase. It made little difference, as Nepal were bowled out for just 104 in 23.4 overs.

Nepal were making their Asia Cup debut, and playing against Pakistan for the first time in any format. That inexperience, and probably the nerves, showed on several occasions. In the first over of the match, Sompal Kami drifted down the leg side a couple of times, and Fakhar Zaman helped himself to two boundaries.

However, the slowness of the pitch and some good fielding came to Nepal’s rescue. With the ball not coming onto the bat, both Fakhar and Imam-ul-Haq struggled for timing. When Fakhar threw his bat at a length ball from Karan and got a thick outside edge, wicketkeeper Aasif Sheikh stretched to his left to grab it with both hands. In the next over, Rohit Paudel nailed a direct hit from mid-off to find Imam short.

With Pakistan 25 for 2, Babar and Mohammad Rizwan started rebuilding the innings. Playing risk-free cricket and still picking up a boundary here and there, they took the side to 100 in the 22nd over.

But then Nepal struck back, once again via their fielding. This time Dipendra Singh Airee, from cover, hit the stumps at the bowler’s end to find Rizwan’s bat and both feet in the air as the batter tried to avoid getting hit by the throw. Had Rizwan run normally and grounded his bat, he would have been safe. He made 44 off 50 balls.

Agha Salman attempted a sweep from well outside off and a reverse sweep in the first three balls he faced; neither shot fetched him any runs. Three overs later, he tried another reverse sweep, off Sandeep Lamichhane, but failed to keep it down and was caught at short third.

At 124 for 4, Pakistan were in trouble but Babar was unperturbed. Against spin, he used the cut shot well to rotate the strike, and reached his fifty in 72 balls.

While Nepal fielded like the World XI at certain times, they looked like Ilford Second XI at others. Having dropped Imam on 5 earlier, they put down Babar on 55, not to mention several other causal efforts resulting in misfields. Babar made them pay. He started finding the boundary with increasing frequency and got to his hundred in 109 balls. Fittingly, it was another cut shot against spin that took him to the milestone.

After that, he really opened up. In the 45th over, he hit Kami for 4, 4 and 6 off successive balls before smashing back-to-back sixes off Lamichhane.

From the other end, Iftikhar was even more brutal. In fact, it was his knock that allowed Babar to shift the gears gradually.

Iftikhar attacked right from the moment he came to the crease. He hit the first six of the innings when he launched Kami over deep midwicket in the 35th over. It took him just 67 balls to bring up his maiden ODI hundred against a helpless Nepal attack. In all, Iftikhar hit 11 fours and four sixes as Pakistan ransacked 129 in the last ten overs.

Shaheen Shah Afridi then picked up two wickets in the first over of the chase. He first strangled Kushal Bhurtel down the leg side before trapping Paudel lbw for a first-ball duck. In the next over, Naseem Shah had Aasif caught at first slip to make it 14 for 3.

Aarif Sheikh and Kami gave the innings some semblance of stability by adding 59 off 78 balls but the pair didn’t last long against Haris Rauf’s pace. He first cleaned up Aarif and then had Kami caught behind. The only resistance Pakistan’s fast bowlers faced was from the muggy weather: both Shaheen and Haris had to leave the field for a breather after their first spells.

Nepal’s lower order was no match for Shadab’s variations. Mixing his legbreaks and googlies, he picked up the last four wickets to finish with figures of 4 for 27.

Brief scores:

Pakistan 342/6 in 50 overs (Babar Azam 151, Iftikhar Ahmed 109*; Sompal Kami 2-85) beat Nepal 104 (Sompal Kami 28; Shadab Khan 4-27, Haris Rauf 2-16) by 238 runs.



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