‘Anything else you need, Pakistan?’ – Asif Ali thanks Islamabad United, believers after match-winning knock

Written by Vipin Darwade

A brittle middle-order with fewer strike-hitters was Pakistan’s main concern heading into the T20 World Cup. Three matches later, Pakistan have heaved a sigh of relief. For the second night in a row, Asif Ali has bailed Pakistan out of a difficult yet low chase. He hit an unbeaten 27 off 12 balls against New Zealand and followed it up with a 25 not out off seven. But what truly describes that aura that Asif has created for himself is seven of the nineteen balls he has faced in the competition were sixes.

Asif only had his Pakistan Super League (PSL) franchise Islamabad United to thank the most. Among 37 batters who have at least faced 200 deliveries in PSL since 2019, no one has scored sixes more often than Asif, every 6.9 balls. However, with Asif failing to convert his PSL form at the international level for Pakistan, critics raised their questions and Asif remained a doubt for the national team.

On Friday, a panic-stricken Babar Azam’s dismissal, by Rashid Khan, saw Pakistan almost lose the plot in the low chase. Naveen-ul-Haq backed the spinner, by conceding just two singles in the 18th over while picking the wicket of the experienced Shoaib Malik. Pakistan equation stood at 24 required off 12. But Asif had his plans chalked out. Taking Afghanistan’s weakest bowler with the short leg-side boundary insight, he smashed Karm Janat for four sixes in the penultimate over to take Pakistan home and keep their 100 per cent record in this tournament intact.

“I don’t notice criticism,” Asif insisted in his post-match press conference. “I don’t follow social media at all, I’m very far away from it. My role was such that I sometimes came into the team and sometimes was dropped. Pakistan needed me and called for me. I’ve played leagues around the world and was playing domestic cricket too, so I was in touch with my game. I’m only in the team because I was performing, after all.

“The last series I played [in South Africa and Zimbabwe], I played in the middle order at No. 6. It’s tricky in that position. The stats guys only see that I scored 10 runs in three innings, but they don’t see if you played only three or four balls of the final over. They only pull out the stat, rather than understanding the intricacies of middle-order batting.

“[Tonight] the boundary on the on-side was smaller from the end in that 19th over. But they bowled wide on the off side and that’s where I ended up hitting sixes at the bigger boundary. That wasn’t exactly the plan, but I just hit the balls I got. I kept telling Shoaib Malik we’d target this end, but unfortunately, he ended up getting out. Thankfully, we ended up winning the match.”

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Vipin Darwade