Captain Babar Azam stood tall to slam a mammoth 151 off 131 balls and was well supported by middle-order batter Iftikhar Ahmed hitting 109 not out off 71 balls as Pakistan thrashed Nepal by 238 runs in the Asia Cup opener, here at the Multan Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.
Electing to bat first on a dry pitch, Pakistan lost their openers early and had suffered a middle-overs slump. But Babar and Iftikhar shared a sensational 214-run partnership off 131 balls for the fifth wicket, the highest-ever for Pakistan at this position in the ODIs.
The duo’s efforts meant Pakistan ended up at 342-6, setting up a very daunting chase of 343 for Nepal. Playing in their first-ever Asia Cup match, Nepal were rolled over for 104 in 23.4 overs, to be thoroughly outclassed by Pakistan.
With the bat, once Babar went past his 19th ODI hundred coming in 107 balls, after getting his fifty in 73 balls, Iftikhar began to change gears for playing a counter-attacking innings and reaching his century in just 67 balls, also his first international hundred, thus changing the complexion of the match.
The duo then accelerated in stunning fashion, as Babar went from 100 to 150 in just 22 balls, by taking on Nepal’s bowlers to amass a whopping 129 runs in the last ten overs of Pakistan’s innings. In the start, Pakistan lost both their openers, Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq in the first ten overs. While Zaman nicked behind off Karan KC, Imam went off for a non-existent single and was run-out by a precise direct hit from captain Rohit Paudel.
From 25 for two, Babar stitched an 86-run partnership with wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan and helped Pakistan reach 100-run mark by the 22nd over, before the latter ran for a simple single in the 24th over, but fielder Dipendra Singh Airee hit the stumps from cover with a direct throw.
While running towards the non-strikers end, Rizwan did not ground his bat and it seemed like he was trying to evade the throw. As a result, he was well short of the crease, not dragging his bat in time and was run out for 44 off 50 balls.
Four overs later, Agha Salman miscued his reverse sweep to backward point, leaving Pakistan in trouble at 124 for four. But Babar held up one end even when wickets were falling and reached his fifty in 72 balls. Nepal were also guilty of giving Babar lives at 5 and 55, on which the right-handed batter capitalised on.
From there, he oozed determination, timing and elegance to hit the first century of the ongoing competition in 109 balls. Eventually, Babar hit 14 fours and four sixes in his knock of 151 under the sapping Multan heat. He also became the fastest batsman to hit 19 centuries in 102 innings, breaking the record of South Africa’s Hashim Amla, who got to the landmark in 104 innings.
Iftikhar was no less, bringing out the big hits right from the word go to smash 11 fours and 4 sixes during his stay at the crease as Pakistan crossed 300-mark. His fifty came in 43 balls and then got his hundred in 67 balls to make merry against a listless Nepal bowling line-up.
In defence of the big total, Pakistan struck immediately as Shaheen Shah Afridi had Kushal Bhurtel strangled down leg and trapped Rohit Paudel lbw on consecutive deliveries of the opening over. Naseem Shah had success as Aasif Sheikh sent a simple catch to first slip.
Aarif Sheikh and Sompal Kami shared a 59-run stand for the fourth wicket before the former was castled by Haris Rauf in the 15th over, followed by Kami nicking behind off him two overs later. From there onwards, the Nepal batting challenge slumped to give Pakistan a big win, with leg-spinner Shadab Khan taking four wickets in a clinical bowling effort.
Brief Scores: Pakistan 342-6 in 50 overs (Babar Azam 151, Iftikhar Ahmed 109 not out; Sompal Kami 2-85, Karan KC 1-54) beat Nepal 104 in 23.4 overs (Sompal Kami 28, Aarif Sheikh 26; Shadab Khan 4-27, Haris Rauf 2-16) by 238 runs.