Leeds: Pakistan survived a mighty scare to continue its surge towards the World Cup semifinals with Imad Wasim (49 not out) showing nerves of steel to guide them to a tense three-wicket win over Afghanistan, here Saturday.
In heart-stopping action, gritty Afghanistan yet again came close to creating a big upset but were denied by Wasim, who emerged an unlikely batting hero along with Wahab Riaz (15 off 9), who hit a timely six off Rashid Khan to release the pressure.
Wasim had five half-centuries before this match but perhaps played the biggest knock of his life, soaking in tremendous pressure as Pakistan huffed and puffed to win with two balls to spare.
The Afghans after dominating the large part of the Pakistan innings, wilted under pressure, missing run outs and catches towards the dramatic end. They had come close to winning against India too but fell short.
The Afghanistan spinners turned the match on its head by reducing Pakistan to 156 for six and the modest 228-run target was now looking like a mountain to scale for the 1992 champions.
It was Mujeeb ur Rahman (2/34) and Mohammed Nabi (2/23) who saw off the Pakistan top-order to set it up nicely for Afghanistan.
When seasoned Rashid Khan got rid of Haris Sohail (27), Afghanistan sensed an upset and Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed (18) helped the Afghan cause by running himself out at crucial juncture.
There was no Babar Azam (45) or Sohail at the crease to rescue Pakistan, who required 46 from the last five overs.
Afghan skipper Gulbadin came to bowl the 46th over and ended up leaking 18 runs with Wasim finding three boundaries in that over. It titled the match heavily in the favour of Pakistan.
With 16 needed off 12 balls, Riaz launched Rashid for a massive six in the second ball and eventually Pakistan needed six from last over.
Gulabdin brought himself again into the attack but Wasim steered him for a four in the fourth ball to finish it off for his side.
With this win, Pakistan have now jumped to the fourth spot with nine points, pushing hosts England to five. They would pray that India beat England tomorrow to enhance Pakistan's semifinal chances.
Earlier, Pakistan bowlers did not exactly dominate the Afghanistan batsmen but pacer Shaheen Afridi's four-wicket haul helped them limit the gritty rivals to 227 for nine in their must-win game.
If Afghanistan finished with a below par total after electing to bat under sunny conditions, it was because the batsmen threw away their wickets with some poor shot selection.
Contributions from Asghar Afghan (42 off 35) and Najibullah Zadran (42 off 54) gave the bowlers something to bowl at.
Shaheen Afridi, who had starred in Pakistan's win over New Zealand, was impressive upfront as well as in the death overs, ending with figures of four for 47 in 10 overs.
Batting has been Afghanistan's weakest link in the competition in which they are yet to win a game in seven attempts. And the batsmen disappointed yet again.
Afridi put Pakistan on top with a double strike in his opening spell, removing skipper Gulbadin Naib (15) and Hashmatullah Shahidi off successive balls. Pakistan got the on-field call overturned to have Naib adjudged caught behind for their first wicket.
Afghanistan were in more trouble when a set Rahmat Shah (35) was dismissed by left-arm spinner Imad Wasim.
Asghar and wicket-keeper batsman Ikram Ali Khil (24) then tried to resurrect the innings with a 64-run stand with the former being the aggressor. Asghar went on the offensive against the spinners to limited success but in the end leggie Shadab Khan had the last laugh as he swept one on to his stumps.
The former Afghanistan captain's entertaining knock comprised three fours and couple of sixes.
Zadran came up with a handy innings towards the end to lend the total some respectability on a slow surface.
Besides Afridi's stellar showing, pacer Wahab Riaz and Imad Wasim picked up two wickets each. PTI