Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Afridi Lights Up Sharjah

Sharjah hosted its first one day international featuring Pakistan since 2003 on Sunday evening for a day night fixture in the historical venue which was hosting its 201st one day international, more than any other venue on the global scale. It was the 4th of 5 one day internationals in the series with the visitors looking to keep the series alive and square the series going into a decider whereas Misbah’s Pakistan were looking to seal the series. The crowd turned up in their numbers and witnessed a nail biter and memorable individual performance courtesy of a stunning all round exhibition from the talismanic and charismatic Shahid Afridi who after scoring a vital 70 odd to help the men in green reach a respectable total of 200 after being 6 down without triple figures on the board and still with over half of the over’s to play out, followed it up and claimed his 6th 5 for in one day internationals and 3rd of the year to spin his side to victory from an improbable position when Sri Lanka were coasting and cruising to a clinical win. It was truly the Shahid Afridi show and the magic of the enigmatic character that produced an inspirational display under lights.

Pakistan won the toss and Misbah Ul Haq elected to bat first just like he did on Friday without any hesitation. Imran Farhat and Mohammad Hafeez got through the first 6 untroubled before Farhat was strangled down the leg side from Fernando’s first delivery to be caught behind. It was indeed an excellent take behind from Kumar. This brought Younis Khan to the crease who steadied the ship with Mohammad Hafeez who just like on Friday was batting cautiously and sedately worked his way up to 25. Both were looking at ease when it came to milking the spinners between overs 10-15. The bowling power play brought Hafeez’s downfall as he was caught at deep square leg attempting to sweep. Misbah Ul Haq walked out to bat at number 4 and got off the mark immediately through some innovative improvisation by pulling out his reverse sweep to claim a boundary. Younis Khan fell in the very next over to a Fernando slower delivery. The experienced campaigner was completely deceived by the well disguised change of pace. Malik walked out at 3 down for his first outing of the tour, but struggled to get ball off the square and was very cautious in his approach and eventually fell to a googly when he was pawned in front. Umar Akmal followed in the same fashion. Shahid Afridi started his account with a beautifully struck off drive against Lasith Malinga while Misbah ul Haq was looking to hold an end up as he so often does  as Pakistan looked to rebuild, however this was short lived as Misbah Ul Haq was again run out in a terrible mix up with the former Pakistan captain. Safraz accompanied Afridi who was playing a measured and calculated knock by taking the singles, being sensible in his stroke play and unleashing the big shot every here and there. Safraz was trapped in front for the 2nd time in the series to Prasana’s leg spin. Saeed Ajmal joined his spin partner and managed to successfully stick around for a resilient 20 before being trapped for pace in front. The off spinner clearly has been working on and improved his batting. Shahid Afridi in the meantime had reached his half century much to the delight of the Sharjah faithful and was dropped by Fernando at one point, but soon after perished in the latter stages of the innings as he was caught behind from a full and wide delivery. Umar Gul managed to take the innings to the 50th over, but then receive the death rattle courtesy of a Malinga Yorker which cannoned into those stumps. At the interval Pakistan concluded on exactly 200 giving Sri Lanka a RPO of 4.05 to stay in the series.

Pakistan got two relatively early breakthroughs as Aizaz Cheema found the edge of both Sri Lankan openers which were caught by Younis Khan and Safraz Ahmed in first slip and keeper position respectively. Misbah-ul-Haq kept him on even though he was expensive and taking some tap, especially in his first two overs. Mohammad Hafeez came on once the first 10 were up and dismissed the promising young talent Dinesh Chandimal who was looking to paddle sweep. The youngster has failed to live up to expectations in this series. It was a lack of experience and technique which brought his downfall. Nonetheless, the veterans got together in MJ and KS and accumulated a partnership of 100 as Sri Lanka looked totally untroubled and well on track before the batting power play and the sheer presence of Shahid Afridi turned the match on its head. Afridi bowled the left hander through the gate. Ajmal got rid of the vice skipper with a doosra and Safraz did the rest. Afridi then produced a quick off break which crushed into the pads and the number 7 was plumb for all money. Afridi then produced 2/2 by getting rid of MJ in the off side ring as he drove loosely and then snatched on to a return catch the very next delivery. Ajmal got rid of Malinga around the wicket with an off break which was pushed through and came back a fraction. Finally Pereera decided to have a go with only Fernando left on the non strikers end and was taken in the deep by Umar Akmal to give the multi talented Shahid Afridi his 5th as Pakistan sealed the win and subsequently the series too. Unsurprisingly the instigator, Shahid Afridi picked up his 4th MOM of the year and 3 of them have come against these men in blue.

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