When, on the last ball of the 18th over, Asif Ali refused to take a single, rather than adding a run to Pakistan’s score with the required run rate almost touching the 12-run mark, it was obvious that he was confident enough in his abilities to take his team over the line. Or so it seemed. Two nights before, his quickfire cameo had helped Pakistan cruise to victory in a grudge match against New Zealand. Against Afghanistan, he picked up from where he had left off against New Zealand and pulled it off with aplomb to ensure that Pakistan’s record in this tournament remains unsullied.
Heretofore, Asif’s selection in the World Cup squad drew a massive outcry. Many were of the view that he lacked the tools to translate his domestic exploits to the international stage and gratuitously touted him as a tulla, laparoo and fraudiya even though he had shown glimpses of his hard-hitting prowess multiple times for his PSL side. An average of 16 and strike rate below 125 – Asif’s sorry set of batting stats in T20Is prior to the tournament – are without a doubt dismal and not remotely redolent of someone who can thrive at the highest level. Steadfastly determined to prove that he is not a flash in the pan, Asif navigated the choppy waters and chose the biggest stage to rehabilitate himself.
In both the matches, Asif strode out to the middle in unnerving and high-pressure situations. When he walked out to bat against New Zealand in the 15th over, Pakistan was teetering at 87 for 5 in pursuit of 135 and the required run-rate had shot past nine an over. After kicking off his World Cup campaign with a four-off Trent Boult over the third man region, he took a liking to Tim Southee and whacked him for back-to-back sixes before pulling Trent Boult for a maximum and scoring a brace off him to clinch Pakistan’s second win in the tournament.
Against Afghanistan, when he came to bat, his side was 122 for 4 and the required run rate had crept up to more than eight with 26 runs required from the last three overs. Asif, however, only needed seven balls to get the job done. After opening his account with a single off Naveen-ul-Haq, he mercilessly dispatched seamer Karim Janat for four majestic maximums in an over to maintain Pakistan’s perfect record in the tournament. Fittingly, it was his bat from which the winning runs flowed in both the games.
To put into context how good Asif’s six-hitting has been and how hard sixes are to come by in this tournament, take a look at this stat: Asif took 19 deliveries for these seven sixes. On the other hand, Indian batsmen took 250 balls for seven sixes, New Zealand batsmen took 240 balls for seven sixes while West Indian batsmen took 147 balls to hit seven sixes.
More crucially, none of the seven sixes Asif struck against Afghanistan or New Zealand were mishits or mis-timed slogs. His pyrotechnics featured meaty blows over long-off, midwicket, extra cover and wide long-on — an indicator of his expansive hitting arc.
Although Pakistan has got world number one and world number 4 T20I batters at the top of the order, they need someone who can put the finishing touches and up the ante down the order. At the biggest stage, Asif has advertised his credentials, repaid the faith of those who had faith in him, and made a telling statement that Pakistan have found the right man in him to do that job.