Asif Ali hit four sixes in the penultimate over as Pakistan maintained their stunning start to the T20 World Cup with another thrilling win.
Asif’s assault on Karim Janat’s bowling swept his side to a five-wicket triumph over Afghanistan on a turbulent Friday night at the Dubai International Stadium.
The match was played in front of another pulsating crowd inside the ground, as a fixture involving Pakistan sold out for the third time within a week.
But outside the stadium, security forces had to deal with crowd unrest. Hundreds of ticketless supporters surged the gates, which were locked midway through the match's first innings.
Mounted police were deployed and later an anti-riot police vehicle arrived at the ground.
Even though Pakistan’s form had been the talk of the tournament coming into this game, many observers warned Afghanistan would provide a stern challenge.
There were notable statistics to support the point. Pakistan had won 13 consecutive T20 internationals in the UAE before this game, and yet Afghanistan’s record in the country had been even better. They had won their past 17 matches in a row in the Emirates.
Afghanistan’s top order attacked the game full of belief, but it felt as though they were up against an irresistible force in the form of Pakistan’s pace attack.
Even after the intensity of the previous outings against India and New Zealand, Shaheen Afridi was still breathing fire.
He dismissed Mohammed Shahzad for eight, as the Afghan opener chipped up a catch to Babar Azam at mid-on. He also sent down a delivery in his opening spell that was measured at 151 kph.
The Afghan batters must have felt they were due some respite when Shaheen was taken out of the attack two balls later.
No such luck. Haris Rauf replaced him, and promptly went even faster, clocking up a delivery that the speedgun tracked as 153.5 kph. In the fifth over of the game, Rauf had Asghar Afghan caught and bowled.
To exacerbate the problems for the Afghans, Pakistan’s spinners were just as testing — albeit in a less intimidating fashion.
In the space of the eight overs they sent down, Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan took three for 47. All of which left the Afghans struggling at 76 for six near the end of the 13 over.
There was, though, one small opening to access. Hasan Ali has been out of sorts so far in the competition for Pakistan.
Although he took a wicket with his first ball this time around, and bowled a maiden, his final involvement allowed the Afghans back into the game.
Gulbadin Naib feasted as he and Mohammed Nabi took the 17th over, bowled by Hasan, for 21.
Between them, the current captain and Gulbadin, a former incumbent in that post, shared an unbroken 71-run stand for the seventh wicket to host the Afghans to 147 for six from their 20 overs.
If they were going to defend that, they needed their champion spinners to deliver. Mujeeb Ur Rahman accepted the responsibility, bowling all his four overs off the reel at the start of the innings.
He sent down 12 dot balls in that time, and dismissed in-form Mohammed Rizwan on his way to figures of one for 14.
Nabi took one for 36 with his off-spin, while Rashid Khan became the fastest player to 100 T20I wickets as he took two for 26 in the latter half of the run chase.
The second of his victims was Babar, the Pakistan captain, who appeared to be winning the game for his side as he made 51 before being bowled by the last delivery Rashid sent down.
Even though he faced just seven balls, Asif was the decisive figure in the match. He dispatched four of those for six.
Of the 19 deliveries he has faced in the tournament so far — between the Afghanistan game and the New Zealand one which preceded it — he has hit seven over the boundary rope.
“The boundary was small from this end so I told my partner I'd go for it this over,” Asif said after being presented the player of the match award.
“I look at the situation and what it demands and which bowler has overs remaining, and the field setting.
“I told Shoaib [Malik, his batting partner at the end], that Naveen was bowling well, and from this end I could even score 25 in an over. So I planned for it.”