Sharjah was hosting its 201st ODI yesterday, and this record was as special as’s performance. Pakistan won the toss and decided to bat first on what looked like an absolutely flat wicket. All the experts were calling it a batting paradise, and were expecting a good batting performance from both sides. When Pakistan openers came in to bat, they were looking settled and fought out the first few overs nicely. When edged a delivery outside leg stump (yes, leg stump not off) and Kumara Sangakarra took a blinder, everybody knew Pakistan’s not in for a good batting display.
However, in Sharjah, with 6 specialist batsmen, no one had predicted Pakistan to be struggling at 97 for 6. Well, that’s Pakistan for you. The men in green are definitely the most unpredictable team in the world right now. At 97 for 6, with Shahid Afridi and Sarfraz Ahmad on the crease, the fans were hoping to just get to 150 somehow. It was when Pakistan’s lucky charm, Shahid Afridi, played one of the most responsible innings of his career.
He started slowly, as Sarfraz got out on the other end as well. With a cautious start, he then picked up pace hitting four fours and three sixes. He made 75 off 65 balls, and got good support from. Saeed Ajmal stuck around and scored 20 runs. The tail added 19 more runs after Afridi had gotten out with 181 on the scoreboard to end the innings at 200.
To defend the low total of 200 in Sharjah, Pakistan had to do something special with the ball. Pakistan started the innings well with Cheema grabbing two wickets and Hafeez pitching in with one in the first 13 overs.
It was then the two most experienced players of Sri Lanka, the two ex-captains, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, got together. They started the rebuilding process, and no one could do it better than them. They tortured Pakistan bowlers to a point where it looked like it was all over. The shoulders started to drop, the crowd went silent, fans back home started to switch channels when the man with the golden arm, Shahid Afrdi clean bowled Kumara Sangakkara. It was a 100 run partnership, the 12th between the two star batsmen. There were just 46 runs to get with 7 wickets in hand, and Pakistan won the game from there. Pakistan managed to take 6 wickets for 19 runs, and 5 of them went to Shahid Afridi.
With an injured knee, it was a star performance by probably the best all-rounder in world cricket today. The man who undoubtedly has the highest fan following in Pakistan, Shahid Afridi was the key to this success. No other team, with no other player today would have managed to achieve it. Despite all the controversies Pakistan cricket has seen in the recent past, he is one man who has still kept the fans’ hopes in the team alive!