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Cricket news - Imad Wasim rises above the frenzy

Imad Wasim kept his cool amidst chaos, took the game deep and saw Pakistan through in a tense chase

As Imad Wasim trudged along aimlessly, waiting for new batsman Wahab Riaz to emerge from the dressing room, he found himself standing right next to Rashid Khan. In that pregnant pocket of time, he put an arm around the spinner's shoulder. The Afghan reciprocated with a similar gesture. The two exchanged a quick word that ended with smiles.

In that moment, neither player was aware of the febrile atmosphere just beyond the boundary line, where plastic chairs and bottles flew through the air in the Trueman stand as the two groups of supporters clashed in a recurring theme of the contest.

Imad could afford to smile because he had effectively cut out the frenzy. He could afford to smile more because Rashid Khan had only one more over left. He could add inches to that smile because Wahab walked out and drove the second ball he faced to the extra cover fence. 18 off 18 required.

Almost home.

***

Forty minutes ago, in the 39th over of the chase, Imad wasn't smiling. Because Rashid Khan was living up to Gulbadin Naib's pre-match prophecy: "If tomorrow is Rashid's day, it'll be difficult for anyone," the captain had emphatically stated.

Such were Imad's struggles that he was basically playing the ball's shadow. Rashid bowled successive googlies that Imad got no bat on despite his best wafts. He decided to take a longer stride to meet the third ball, but hit his shot straight to mid-on. Off the fourth, he made up his mind to play for the googly, only for the legspinner to ping his pads.

On the penultimate ball, Rashid offered a friendly full toss, but a rattled Imad took a while to process the gift and only tapped it tentatively down to mid-off for a single. His struggles and the rising required rate forced a brain-fade out of his partner Sarfaraz Ahmed, who ran himself out attempting a non-existent double.

Just imagine the situation Imad was in. Pakistan needed 72 off the final 11 overs, six of which were to be bowled by Rashid and Mujeeb ur Rahman. His team had had one foot out of the World Cup when a stroke of divine intervention saw Sri Lanka beat England and open up the tournament, which Pakistan duly used to rally and beat South Africa and New Zealand in succession.

Because they had already done their bit for the romance of the World Cup, everybody now expected them to beat Afghanistan and later Bangladesh to make the semis. After restricting the Afghanistan line-up to 227, Imad himself had said, "we should be chasing this comfortably". The din inside Headingley had caused him to forget that Pakistan are never beyond a batting collapse of their own. And so here he was, batting on 4 off 16 with only Shadab Khan and the fast bowlers to follow.

Incredibly, amidst this frenzy, he channelled his inner zen. Sometimes, in games that don't have much riding on them, a lower-order batsman can play a carefree innings with sensational hitting because less thought leads to less clutter in the head. But to play the innings that Imad did needs a mix of the calm and calculated.

He allowed the required run-rate to build to nine-an-over (46 off 30 balls) because as per his computation, even if Afghanistan decided to bowl the full quota of leggie Samiullah Shinwari (four overs left), he'd have at least one over of a medium pacer to play. With Hamid Hasan out injured and Rahmat Shah unable to bowl (shoulder trouble), the target was Gulbadin himself.

Imad potentially had one over out of the remaining 11 to target, but even that 9% chance offered better odds than what Rashid Khan was giving from the other end. "Rashid was bowling brilliantly and I couldn't pick him to be honest. [So I] just hung in there and decided to play fifty overs," Imad would say later. "If you take a chance, you might give them a wicket. So, we were like, just don't give wicket to Rashid Khan and then the rest we would see how it goes. He (Naib) was the only bowler who could've been targeted to be honest and my plan was to attack when the fast bowler came in."

Imagine the situation and imagine his cool. The percentages and the conditions were stacked against him and now with every dot ball, the required rate and the crowd's reaction too. It was the hottest day of the Leeds summer and he was cramping. His own dressing room, as Wahab would later attest, had gone deathly quiet and resigned their fate to izzat aur zillat (honour and dishonour). In this chaos, Imad trusted his game and his plans. A single here, a double there. He waited, knowing that there would be one over in which he can make it all up.

Afghanistan blinked earlier than he expected. At the end of the 45th over, Naib decided to bowl himself for another over with Pakistan needing 46 off 5. He didn't have to. Afghanistan had the capacity to bowl all five overs of spin on a track with Shinwari having proved worthy of bearing the responsibility through his efforts on the day. But Naib had made his choice and handed the cap to the umpire, much to the the surprise of Rashid and Mujeeb, who had both come running in from the deep, each expecting to be bowled.

This was Imad's chance. He walked across the first ball and swiped it past square leg for four. He charged at the second and miscued a loft. Afghanistan looked back in hope as the ball hung up in the air. Asghar Afghan fielding at extra cover lost it in the lights and got nowhere near the ball. It was an ominous miss. After picking up a two off the third ball, Imad steered the fourth past third-man and blasted the fifth past extra cover for fours. A wide and a single from the under-fire Naib gave Pakistan 18 for the over and reduced the equation to 28 off 24. The night shook with possibility once more.

In that passage of play, the game shifted below Afghanistan's feet and was from there on driven by Pakistani conviction. Wahab Riaz walked in with a broken finger and smashed a four and six off Rashid himself. Fittingly though, it was Imad that struck the decisive final blow, slapping another Naib full toss through covers for four. He had little time to drink in the crowd's applause because a few of them had coming worryingly close to pass on their wishes.

It may have just been 49, but it came at a time when the wicket and the circumstances were threatening. In the context of Pakistan's tournament, the 49 is just as important as the Haris Sohail 89 or the Babar Azam 101. It was an unbeaten 49 that rose above the frenzy and kept the dream of a '92 encore alive.

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