Shaheen and Babar seal Pakistan’s nervy win against Ireland


Pakistan 111 for 7 (Babar 32*, McCarthy 3-15) beat Ireland 106 for 9 (Delany 31, Shaheen 3-22, Imad 3-8) by three wickets and seven balls remaining

Pakistan made it more complicated than it needed to be, but Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi led them to a nervy three-wicket win to sign off their T20 World Cup campaign. Shaheen led the way with the ball with three early wickets and finished the contest off with two sixes, while Babar shepherded a chase that he watched fall apart with an unbeaten 32.

Mohammad Amir and Haris Rauf joined Shaheen among the wickets as Ireland were reduced to 32 for 6. At that stage, an early-afternoon finish appeared likely, but Gareth Delany and Mark Adair gritted their way through a 44-run partnership off 30 balls. Imad Wasim took care of the lower order with figures of 3 for 8 in four overs, in what is likely his last game for Pakistan, but a cameo of 22 from Josh Little took Ireland to 106.

Pakistan were cruising through the chase after eight overs with Saim Ayub, Mohammad Rizwan and Babar doing their bit to take any sting out of Ireland’s bowling attack. But a frenetic phase in the middle overs, when Curtis Campher and Barry McCarthy took four wickets for 10 runs, left Babar alone with a relatively long tail.

But Abbas Afridi swung his way through a happy-go-lucky 17 to bring the target down to 12, while a calf injury for Little meant Ireland had to bowl spin at Shaheen. He finished with two heaved sixes to seal a win that gave Pakistan relief rather than satisfaction.

Shaheen back in love with first overs

After going eight successive T20Is without a first-over wicket – his longest dry spell in his T20I career – Shaheen finally snapped the streak today, his third ball a perfect illustration of why he has historically been so effective up front. The new ball swung and seamed back in to pierce Andrew Balbirnie’s defences and crash into the stumps. Two balls later, Shaheen got one to shape the other way, kissing Lorcan Tucker’s outside edge on the way to Rizwan. There was nearly a third when Pakistan reviewed one that clipped Harry Tector’s pad, and though that wasn’t given, Shaheen trapped Tector in front in his next over.

Ireland’s recovery

When Pakistan had Ireland at 32 for 6, any prospect of recovery was distant. But Ireland understood that continuing to attack was the most direct route to runs. In the tenth over, Gareth Delany hit Shadab’s first ball for six and Mark Adair pulled the last one for four. They attacked Abbas Afridi, who had not played a competitive game since his inclusion in Pakistan’s World Cup squad, for 16 runs in the 11th.

It kept Ireland on track three figures, and when another slump came – from 76 for 6 to 80 for 9 – Little and Ben White batted the remaining six overs, adding an unbeaten 26 for the last wicket. An hour later, they were almost rewarded for it.

Pakistan’s jitters

Pakistan securing a straightforward win would have been an inauthentic end to the campaign they have had, and duly, the collapse came. If Pakistan felt they were sitting pretty halfway through the chase against India, it was nothing compared to the impregnability of their position against Ireland. Pakistan needed 55 in 12 overs with eight wickets in hand, with Babar and Fakhar Zaman batting, when Zaman drilled one to mid-off. It was the catalyst for flutters through the whole of the Pakistan camp as Usman Khan was deceived by McCarthy’s extra bounce in the tenth over.

The memories of the chase that fell apart last Sunday were fresh as Shadab, to whom cricket is offering no hiding place at the moment, flicked his second ball to the wicketkeeper. Imad finally connected with the cut shot he’s been trying since Ravindra Jadeja bowled against him, but straight to the man at point. An unassertive top order and a non-existent middle order won’t get you out of the first round at many World Cups, and this game was the perfect illustration of the point.

Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000

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