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Khans shine for Pakistan as Afghans submit easily

Sharjah Pakistan's all-round might proved too much for Afghanistan's carefree spirit, as Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan and Imran Farhat set up an emphatic win with plenty 77 balls to spare. But the scorecard couldn't do justice to the show that Afghanistan put up. Presented with the privileged opportunity of playing a Full Member, Afghanistan could have either been consumed by the occasion and allowed Pakistan to brush them away, or have thrown foolhardy punches in all directions, in hope rather than conviction. That they found a middle ground and competed for a large portion of the game justified the awed tones with which people have been speaking about their rapid rise.

Years from now, when no one will recall the result of this game, one image will endure. Saeed Ajmal, Man of the Series from the Test series against England, was forced into an early spell after Pakistan's new-ball bowlers were battered by Karim 'Kabul ka Sehwag' Sadiq and Mohammad Shahzad. To Ajmal's third ball, the portly Shahzad calmly reversed his stance and heaved a flighted offbreak a good 20 yards into the stands behind square leg. It was just one shot, but it came against the bowler who had looped circles around England's celebrated top order through six innings of tortuous Test batting in the same conditions. It was a statement as telling as any - Misbah-ul-Haq smiled wryly into the distance as the ball disappeared. Afghanistan weren't bothered by reputations, and their top-order batsmen were intent on announcing themselves to the world.

The fun began early on the flat Sharjah track, when Umar Gul strayed into Sadiq's pads in the first over. Sadiq thumped the flick with a violence that was a sign of things to come. He would later prance out to Wahab Riaz and butcher a length ball over mid-off. Noor Ali Zadran perished at the other end, but Sadiq didn't seem to notice - he waited in the crease and launched a Gul slower ball for his first six down the ground. Gul wisely shelved the slower ball after that. Shahzad warmed up by flicking, carving and lofting Riaz for successive fours before producing that six against Ajmal. If there ever was a shot that gave the crowd its money's worth, this was it.

It took Pakistan a moment of athletic brilliance to stop Afghanistan's rampant progress. Shahzad opened up the off side and looked to cream Shahid Afridi's second ball over point, but Asad Shafiq leapt up and snatched it with one hand when he was at full stretch. The catch was so extraordinary, that even Afridi deigned to leave the spotlight on the fielder, as he refrained from his characteristic X-man celebrations. Afridi's variations of spin and pace - one of his balls clocked 131 kph - gradually unravelled Afghanistan's innings. Nawroz Mangal missed a slog to lose his stumps, before Sadiq - who had carted Mohammad Hafeez for another towering six - edged a wide Afridi delivery into Umar Akmal's gloves.

 
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