As mercurial as lunatic – that’s Shahid Afridi!

“No other cricketer in his generation blends genius so liberally with lunacy as Shahid Afridi, …” says Andrew Fidel Fernando after Afridi hit two sixes in the 50th over to ski-jump Pakistan’s victory over arch-rivals India.

AFRIDI --happy streaminsblog spot 

Pakistan 249 for 9 (Hafeez 75, Shehzad 42, Afridi 34*, Ashwin 3-44) beat India 245 for 8 (Rayudu 58, Rohit 56, Jadeja 52*, Ajmal 3-40) by one wicket


afridi 22No other cricketer in his generation blends genius so liberally with lunacy as Shahid Afridi, and though there were glimpses of both in Mirpur, Afridi sent Pakistan’s fans into raptures and endeared himself to them again, as only he can, with two mighty blows during an incredibly tense final over. The India-Pakistan clash was given a finish deserving of its profile, as Pakistan ran India’s 245 down with two balls and one wicket remaining. Unless a major upset occurs over the next few days, Pakistan will most likely play Sri Lanka in the final of the Asia Cup.

Mohammad Hafeez and Sohaib Maqsood had massaged the chase to a manageable position in an 87-run fifth wicket stand, but they departed in quick succession and left their team’s fate in Afridi’s comically mercurial hands. Having run Maqsood out and played one of his no-look slogs second ball, Afridi proceeded to bat intelligently with Umar Gul – the pair struck calculated blows to reel in the target. With 11 required off the last 10 balls, and four wickets still in hand, Pakistan appeared to be cruising home. Then, three wickets fell in five balls.

It was down to nine off four when Afridi took strike in the final over. R Ashwin had bowled beautifully throughout the innings, but he was no match for the Afridi whirlwind at the end. The batsman backed away and walloped one over extra cover to give voice to the Pakistan fans in the stadium, before, with only three needed off three, he sought to hammer Ashwin out of the ground again. This time he went over long-on, and though he seemed to have miscued it, sending the ball high into the night, it too sailed over the rope, gaining the few extra yards seemingly through nothing but Afridi’s force of will.

Earlier, Pakistan had been 113 for 4 in pursuit of 246, when Hafeez arrested the slide with a period of risk-free accumulation. Pakistan’s run rate had been excellent in the opening overs, which gave Hafeez room to breathe, as did the opposition’s expenditure of energy on dismissing an out-of-sorts Maqsood at the other end. Unsteadily Maqsood survived, with the aid of Hafeez’ advice, before he too began to exert some control on the innings. The pair were watchful against spin, but made headway in the overs from the quicks.

Hafeez made his 19th ODI fifty during their stand, which did not gather pace until the dew both captains had dreaded at the toss began to materialise, at around the 40th over. That urgency brought wickets however. Hafeez top-edged a sweep off Ashwin to deep square leg, before Maqsood set out for a tight single and was sent back too late by Afridi, with 44 still required off 36. Afridi then took control, with help from Umar Gul, who made a run-a-ball12.

When Pakistan bowled, Saeed Ajmal had gone wicketless in his first eight overs, but that was largely because India had resorted to reticence as they collectively failed to decipher his doosra. As he sent down tight, menacing overs, Ajmal’s team-mates reaped the rewards of his control. Debutant Mohammad Talha’s two wickets came as he bowled in tandem with Ajmal, while Hafeez claimed Dinesh Karthik’s scalp in the 37th over as Ajmal operated at the other end. Ajmal would eventually have scalps to show for his mastery. He dismissed Ambati Rayudu in the 47th over, before striking twice in the 49th, when he conceded only one run.

Rohit Sharma’s 56 had given India’s innings the early impetus, before Ambati Rayudu gathered 58 through the middle overs, and Ravindra Jadeja struck an unbeaten 52 off 49 balls at the close.

On a benign surface that provided no lateral movement for the seamers, Rohit was particularly severe on errant lengths. A short-of-a-length Junaid Khan delivery was whipped over the deep midwicket rope in the seventh over, before the next ball was clipped to the fine leg fence. When Misbah-ul-Haq kept Junaid on for another over, Rohit welcomed him with a lofted off-drive, before coming down the track to repeat the dose three balls later.

Dhawan and Kohli’s dismissals did not cow him, but when Ajmal and Talha dried up the runs in tandem, his mistake came. He mis-hit a pull off Talha, and Hafeez took a good running catch over his shoulder to hand the seamer his first ODI scalp. Ajinkya Rahane also succumbed to Talha soon after, leaving India at 103 for 4, before Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik put on a measured 52 together.

Jadeja worked the field superbly in his late charge, and twice he cleared the front leg and sent Ajmal and Umar Gul over the cow-corner boundary. That would be his most fruitful area, but though Rayudu and Ashwin contributed useful boundaries, Jadeja lacked sustained support.

There were costly misses for India in Pakistan’s innings. Karthik failed to stump Sohaib Maqsood after Ashwin had set him up so beautifully on 21, and a run-out chance was missed a few overs later. But perhaps those errors simply evened out the reprieves they themselves had enjoyed. Jadeja should have been out lbw to Hafeez on 7 but was not given out, and he was dropped by Hafeez for 12 soon after. Jadeja’s next 40 runs would come off 24 balls, propelling India towards a competitive, but ultimately insufficient, total.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

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