Pakistan 342 for 6 wickets (Babar 151, Iftikhar 109*, Kami 2-85) defeated Nepal 104 (Kami 28, Shadab 4-27, Rauf 2-16, Shaheen 2-27) by 238 runs
On a difficult pitch in Multan, Nepal had made early successes to leave Pakistan in a precarious position. Babar strengthened the innings during that period and played 72 balls to reach his half-century. Gradually he increased the pace and reached from 51 to 100 in 37 balls. Once he completed his century, he went into T20 mode and scored 51 runs off the next 22 balls.
Nepal were making their debut in the Asia Cup, and were playing against Pakistan for the first time in any format. That inexperience, and perhaps nervousness, showed on several occasions. In the first over of the match, Sompal Kami went down the leg side a few times and Fakhar Zaman helped him hit two fours.
However, the slow pace of the pitch and some good fielding came to Nepal’s rescue. Both Fakhar and Imam-ul-Haq struggled for timing as the ball did not hit the bat. When Fakhar threw his bat at a length ball from Karan and hit a thick outside edge, wicketkeeper Asif Shaikh extended to his left to catch it with both hands. In the next over, Rohit Paudel hit a direct hit from mid-off to get Imam out short.
When Pakistan’s score was 25 runs for 2 wickets, Babar and Mohammad Rizwan started rebuilding the innings. Playing risk-free cricket and still hitting a boundary here and there, he took the team past 100 in the 22nd over.
But then Nepal once again counterattacked with their fielding. This time from cover, Deependra Singh Airi hit the stumps at the bowler’s end to catch Rizwan’s bat and both feet were in the air as the batsman tried to avoid the throw. If Rizwan had run normally and kept his bat on the ground, he would have been safe. He scored 44 runs on 50 balls.
Agha Salman attempted sweeps and reverse sweeps well outside off the first three balls he faced; He did not get any runs from any shot. Three overs later, he tried another reverse sweep off Sandeep Lamichhane, but failed to stop it and was caught at short third.
Pakistan was in trouble at 124 runs for 4 wickets but Babar was not worried. He made good use of cut shots to rotate the strike against spin and completed his half-century in 72 balls.
While Nepal fielded like a World XI at times, at other times they looked like Ilford Second XI. After first falling to Imam on 5, he dropped Babar on 55, not to mention the many other reasons which resulted in misfields.
Babar made them pay. He began finding boundaries with increasing frequency and brought up his century in 109 balls. Fittingly, it was another cut shot against spin that took him to this point.
After that, he really opened up. In the 45th over, he hit Kami for 4, 4 and 6 runs on consecutive balls before hitting back-to-back sixes off Lamichhane.
Iftikhar was even more cruel from the other end. In fact, it was his knock that allowed Babar to gradually change gears.
Iftikhar attacked as soon as he came to the crease. He hit his first six of the innings when he holed out to Kami at deep midwicket in the 35th over. It took him only 67 balls to complete his maiden ODI century against a hapless Nepal attack. Overall, Iftikhar hit 11 fours and four sixes, helping Pakistan score 129 runs in the last ten overs.
After this, Shaheen Shah Afridi chased the target and took two wickets in the first over. He first hit Kushal Bhurtel on the leg side and then dismissed Paudel LBW on the very first ball. In the next over, Naseem Shah caught Asif at first slip and reduced the score to 14 runs for three wickets.
Arif Sheikh and Kami provided some stability to the innings by adding 59 runs in 78 balls, but the pair could not last long against the pace of Haris Rauf. He first clean bowled Arif and then got Kami caught behind. The only resistance Pakistan’s fast bowlers faced came from the humid weather: both Shaheen and Haris had to leave the field for relief after their first spells.
Nepal’s lower order was no match for Shadab’s versatility. Combining his legbreaks and googlies, he took the last four wickets and took 4 for 27.
Hemant Brar is sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo