Gulbadin Naib
Afghanistan's captain Gulbadin Naib reacts after a delivery during the Cricket World Cup match between Pakistan and Afghanistan at Headingley in Leeds, England, Saturday, June 29, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: What a contest it has turned out to be! Asian Minnows once again gave a huge freight to another Asian powerhouse, losing narrowly. It’s the second instance Afghanistan are losing in the last over, first against India and now against Pakistan, both in a low-scoring contest. Though their inexperience to some extent cost them the match, the key reason for their loss is bad umpiring decisions, which proved to be the turning point.

Imad Wasim was trapped in front by Rashid Khan when he was on 1 and Pakistan’s score reading 145 for 5, but the umpire ruled it not out. The replays showed that the ball trajectory had met all the required criterions to be given out, but Imad Wasim survived the close call to produce a match-winning knock of unbeaten 49.

Similarly, Haris Sohail had a faint edge when he was on 17, Pakistan at 118 for three in the 29th over, which was again rule not out. These decisions will certainly make the Afghans feel robbed of a deserving win. This World Cup has witnessed some glaring umpiring errors, despite the latest technology available at their disposal. One might argue that Afghanistan wasted their quota of one referral allotted to them, but that doesn’t absolve the umpires of their duties.

However, nothing could take the credit away from Pakistan. They deserve to emerge winners for putting a brave fight till the end and keep their title hopes alive. This win once again emphasise the similarities between their successful 1992 campaign and the present one. Incidentally, India too won their second World Cup title after 27 years, and who knows Pakistan could do the same, winning after 27 years!

Pakistan lived up to their reputation of being the unpredictable team. Chasing a small target, they lost their way and slipped miserably midway through their innings. Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan added an invaluable 50-run partnership for the seventh wicket to bring them back on track, but what is even more worthier of mention is the lion-hearted effort by Wahab Riaz. With a broken finger, Wahab Riaz walked in to prove a point and he did it with perfection with an unbeaten 15. Those are priceless runs as otherwise it would have been difficult for Imad Wasim to score freely in the company of Mohammad Amir or Shahen Shah Afridi.

Afghanistan’s lack of big-match temperament came to the fore once again. Along with their bad luck in losing strike bowler Hamid Hassan to hamstring injury early in the innings, they dropped several catches and missed a couple of run outs, including one in the last over. Captain Gulbadin Naib was also guilty of bowling the 46th over, giving away 18 runs after coming in at a stage when 46 runs were required in five overs. That over released the pressure on Pakistan, from which they escaped to victory.

Afghanistan may not have scored a point in this World Cup yet, but they have proved beyond doubt that the gap between them and the other Asian heavyweights is very narrow.