It was astonishing to hear Sarfraz Ahmed confirm at the toss that Pakistan was playing the same XI against Afghanistan despite Wahab Riaz suffering a fracture in his little finger of the right hand during a fielding drill on the eve of the match. The Pakistan captain had put the left-arm pacer’s name on the team sheet after reassurance from him that he would give a 100 per cent with the ball. Riaz had, however, told his captain that he could guarantee the same for the other two facets of the game.
“I was asked how much pain I can bear, and they left it up to me to decide whether I want to play or not,” Riaz said after the match on Saturday (June 29). “I bowled in the morning during the warm-ups, and I told them I can commit to a 100% effort with the ball but I can’t promise the same with fielding and batting. Captain asked me to reassure him that I can give him 100% with the ball. I said ‘yes’. Then he said ‘let’s go’. That was a confidence booster.”
Though Riaz had taken the field with a bandage on his right hand, there were no signs of any discomfort when he had the ball in his hand. His typical aggression was on display as he banged the ball short and hurled reverse-swinging yorkers at a daunting pace. He returned the most economical figures amongst the Pakistan bowlers with 2 for 29 in eight overs.
But, it was his injured hand that delivered match-defining pictures when he struck the best limited-overs leg-spinner, Rashid Khan, for a four, off a powerful cover drive, and a gigantic six over cow-corner, across two overs to take Pakistan to the brink of the victory.
He pulled off the cover drive in his very second ball to set the equation to 18 required off 18 and his six in the penultimate over had left only six runs to be chased in the last over. Riaz carried the bat with 15 runs next to his name off nine balls – a cameo which in the end looked effortless. But, that wasn’t really the case.
“When I went in to bat, I was in a lot of pain,” Riaz revealed. “I just looked at Allah that you are the one to give me honour. Thanks to him we had won the match when we came back… We kept telling each other we can do it. I just said this small thing: only God gives honour and dishonour (izzat aur zillat). I just left it to him. I gave it my 100% and he gave us honour.”
Pakistan had earlier botched up what should have been an easy chase. They were never really in control of the chase with Fakhar Zaman falling on the second ball of the innings and their wickets tumbling at regular intervals. With the Afghanistan spinners continuing to bamboozle the batsmen, an Afghanistan victory looked certain in the first half of the final powerplay until Gulbadin Naib’s gamble in the 46th over backfired and allowed Pakistan an opportunity to bounce back in the game.
The mood was subdued in the Pakistan camp because of pressure. But, at the same time, there was belief. Pakistan couldn’t afford to lose the Saturday’s contest as it would have increased the certainty of their early exit exponentially.
“To tell you the truth, the dressing room was quiet because of the pressure. We were just telling each other we can do it. Even before I went to bat, Sarfaraz told me two-three times this can be done. And we did it. There was a lot of pressure because this was a must-win game.”
Pakistan, now on the fourth spot in the points table, play Bangladesh in their last group game which will be another must-win game for them. Though the results of the other matches will determine whether they go ahead after the win, Pakistan would still have slim chances of going through if they lose. But, the weight of other results will have more bearing on their qualification.
At this stage, Pakistan would like to keep things in their own hands, as much as they can. After Pakistan finally realised their right XI, they haven’t made a change in the last three matches – something which they will want to continue after having made as many as seven changes in the first six matches.
And, they would want Riaz to be available for selection. “See if I have played today, I will obviously play against Bangladesh too,” he confirmed. “Because I don’t think it will get any worse. The way I played today somehow, will manage to play against Bangladesh too