They say all’s well that ends well, and boy, does Pakistan’s Asif Ali live by that motto.
Not satisfied with blasting 27 runs off 12 balls to help take his side to victory over New Zealand last time out, the ‘finisher’ went even more berserk against Afghanistan.
Striding to the crease with 26 off 18 balls required for victory, Pakistan were stumbling at the finish line, but their No.6 had other ideas.
On strike in the 19th over, with 24 needed from 12 balls at what appeared to be a pretty daunting run rate of 12 an over, Asif was unperturbed.
Unwilling to see things go into the final over, he smashed four clean sixes off the bowling of Karim Janat to get his side over the line in some style with six balls to spare.
Asif’s clean ball striking has become a theme of the ICC Men’s World T20 2021 and has been a big part of why Pakistan are now three from three in the Super 12s and on top of Group 2 on the verge of clinching a semi-final place.
Asif, 30, though had to overcome a lot of doubters to get to this stage. Despite having the leading run-scorer for Faisalabad in the 2017–18 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy but he wasn’t considered to be good enough for the international stage by many.
The performance in the T20 World Cup looks even more impressive in the backdrop of the criticism he had received ahead of the tournament. But for Ali, it’s all about trusting himself.
“I don’t read what is said about me on social media and don’t watch television so I don’t know what is said about me in social media and that helps me focus on my work.”
It was written that Pakistan had found a new hero in Asif after the New Zealand game, so by those standards the 30-year-old must already have cult status following his action-packed heroics against Afghanistan in Dubai.
Hitting four sixes to take your country to glory had people stretching their minds back to five years ago.
Carlos Brathwaite smoked four consecutive maximums off Ben Stokes to take the West Indies to the ICC Men’s World T20 2016 trophy and the unfortunate bowler was clearly reminded of that when watching Asif in action.
Brathwaite’s pyrotechnics have forever been replayed alongside the iconic commentary of Ian Bishop who in the wake of the West Indian’s kamikaze tournament-winning hitting, boomed: “Carlos Brathwaite! Carlos Brathwaite! Remember the name.”
And Stokes tweeted: “Remember the name @AasifAli2018.” The Englishman, who is not at the tournament after taking a break to aid his mental health and let his broken finger recover, then suggested we might see an England v Pakistan final.
If that was the case, you could be sure that Asif will have a major role in deciding the outcome.
Asif is a product of the PSL, taking to the fore as part of Islamabad United where his six-hitting prowess helped them to the 2018 title and caught the eye of the national selectors. For him, hitting sixes comes naturally.
“I have confidence in my hitting and that paid off,” said Asif after the match. “I hit sixes towards the longer side of the boundary.”
“Yes, I knew that there was a single, but I had confidence that I will hit sixes and score the needed runs,” Asif said.
“They did not bowl towards the shorter boundaries but I hit him towards the longer side.”
And his captain Babar Azam, who made 51 as Pakistan successfully chased 148 to win, revealed he never doubted Asif’s ability to get the job done.
After the game, Babar said: “We didn’t quite use the powerplay as well as we hoped but Asif and Shoaib Malik at the death were brilliant.
“The way Asif’s played many innings at the PSL, I was very confident he’d get us out of any trouble we find ourselves in.”
Now, all that remains to be seen is if the man adept at rescuing his side can help them go all the way, having extended their perfect record and with difference-makers like Asif in their ranks, Pakistan will feel even more confident that they can go all the way and repeat the heroics of 2009.
What makes Ali’s innings even more special is the amount of pressure under which he delivered.
“My job is to hit sixes, so I practise in scenarios based on situations, needing to hit sixes in the last five overs type situations,” he said.
Pakistan have been crying out for a player of his type and calibre lower down the order and their prayers have been answered at the best possible time.
Pakistan have ticked all the boxes in the tournament so far and in Asif Ali they have an insurance policy. Even if the batting or bowling unit fails, they can count on his ability to clear the ropes at will to make up ground in a match and take them to victory.
Pakistan are looking ominous and will take some stopping in the UAE.
(With inputs from ICC Media Release and AFP).