Afridi to the rescue for Pakistan
Shahid Afridi led from the front once again to ensure Pakistan avoided a surprise defeat to Canada at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
The Associate nation set up the prospect of a second World Cup shock in as many days when they dismissed Pakistan for just 184 inside 43 overs.
Canada then reached 104 for three in reply, but the mercurial Afridi picked up three wickets in the space of six balls en route to figures of 5-23 as they collapsed to 138 all out and a 46-run defeat.
Pakistan’s captain has now taken 14 wickets in the competition at an average of 5.21 and becomes the first player to claim at least four scalps in three consecutive World Cup matches.
At times, the leg-spinner appeared almost unplayable as he varied his pace and flight to devastating effect on a wicket providing ample assistance for the bowlers.
Afridi even made an impact in the field after he had completed his 10 overs, running out Balaji Rao with a direct hit from mid-off to put Pakistan on the brink of victory.
Canada had made a nervy start to their chase, with teenage openers Ruvindu Gunasekera and Nitish Kumar each departing cheaply.
Gunasekera was trapped lbw by Umar Gul for eight, with a review required to overturn umpire Daryl Harper’s initial verdict, and, although Kumar successfully referred a leg before decision that had gone against him, he was then bowled through the gate by Abdul Razzaq for two.
Ashish Bagai survived a number of lbw shouts before becoming Afridi’s first victim, although Pakistan were forced to call upon UDRS once again to confirm the Canada captain’s departure.
A defiant fourth-wicket partnership of 60 between Zubin Surkari and Jimmy Hansra took the underdogs to within 81 runs of victory. However, the former’s departure to Saeed Ajmal in the 34th over, following yet another successful review, sparked a dramatic collapse that saw the returning Afridi wreak havoc.
Rizwan Cheema was bowled as he aimed a wild heave at a flighted delivery and both Hansra and Harvar Baidwan were unable to keep out successive quicker balls.
Khurram Chohan prevented Afridi from recording a hat-trick, but it was not long before Pakistan’s skipper struck again as Wahab Riaz took a fine catch running in from the deep to dismiss Tyson Gordon.
Afridi accurate throw then accounted for Balaji, who had exchanged angry words with Ahmed Shehzad and Gul, before Riaz bowled Henry Osinde to bring the match to an end.
Canada’s disappointing performance with the bat was in sharp contrast to their efforts in the field earlier in the day, which saw them restrict Pakistan to a modest total.
Openers Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad once again failed to impress as they departed for 11 and 12 respectively inside the first nine overs.
Younus Khan also fell cheaply as he was trapped lbw by Baidwan for six and when Kamran Akmal cut Cheema to point Pakistan were in trouble on 67 for four.
Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Akmal led a recovery of sorts with a patient partnership of 73 and the latter appeared to be settling into his stride as he advanced down the track to loft Balaji over cover for four.
Balaji gained his revenge soon after, however, as a flatter delivery struck Umar in front of middle stump and the same bowler then had Misbah caught down the leg side.
The big-hitting duo of Afridi and Razzaq each failed to fire as Pakistan’s innings duly subsided and Riaz departed in comical fashion as Balaji initially spilled a chance at slip off Hansra, only to catch the ball between his thighs as he fell to the ground.
Saeed Ajmal was bowled by Baidwan, who finished with 3-35, but Canada were unable to take their opportunity, much to the disappointment of skipper Bagai.
"Fighting is one thing but getting across that line is obviously taking it to another level," he said.
"We had a chance to show everybody what we've put in over the last few years but we fell short."
Man of the match Afridi was unhappy with his side's batting display and said: "It's a very good wake-up call for us for the next game. Myself and coach Waqar Younis will talk to the boys and it will definitely not happen again."