Babar Azam hit a delightful 151 while Iftikhar Ahmed smashed his maiden ODI century as Pakistan thrashed minnows Nepal by 238 runs in the opening match of the Asia Cup, on Wednesday.
Babar and Iftikhar played pivotal roles in powering Pakistan to 342 for six after opting to bat.
Babar (151 off 130) was involved in two crucial partnerships after a sedate start — first stitching 86 runs with Mohammad Rizwan (44 off 50) and then sharing a whirlwind 214 runs for the fifth wicket with Iftikhar (109 not out off 71 balls) — to take Pakistan to an imposing total.
Babar decorated his knock with 14 fours and four sixes, while Iftikhar, who was at his destructive best, struck 11 boundaries and four hits over the fence.
This was after Pakistan made an unimpressive start to their innings as they lost both the openers early.
It was always going to be a Herculean task for Nepal and it turned out to be so.
Kushal Bhurtel made a brave start to Nepal’s chase with consecutive boundaries off Shaheen Shah Afridi on the opening two balls, but it was shortlived as the ace left-arm made a superb comeback to dismiss him and Nepal skipper Rohit Paudel in the last two balls of the over.
Naseem Shah then got into the act in the next over and induced an outside edge from Aasif Sheikh which was pounced by Iftikhar in the first flip as Nepal slipped to 14 for 3.
Aarif Sheikh (26) and Sompal Karmi then tried to steady the ship with a 59-run fourth-wicket stand, before Haris Rauf went through the defence of the former.
Rauf then dismissed Nepal’s top-scorer Sompal (28) an over later to reduce the Himalayan nation to 82 for 5.
Thereafter, wickets fell like nine pins as Nepal batters failed to produce any resistance, eventually bundling out for 104 in 23.4 overs. Leg-break bowler Shahdab Khan cleaned up Nepal’s tail to return with impressive figures of 4 for 27.
Earlier, while Fakhar Zaman (14) showed intent initially but failed to carry on as he was brilliantly caught by a diving Nepal wicketkeeper Aasif Sheikh off the bowling of Karan KC in the sixth over.
Pakistan suffered yet another blow soon when Imam-ul-Haq was found short of the crease while attempting a single that was not for the taking. A direct throw from Nepal captain Rohit Paudel ended his innings.
Babar was then joined at the crease by wicketkeeper-batter Rizwan and the duo stabilised Pakistan’s innings.
While Babar played the role of an anchor, Rizwan showed his attacking instincts during the 86-run stand for the third wicket which came off 111 balls.
But the start of their partnership was far from rosy as the duo struggled to keep the scoreboard ticking initially with Pakistan reaching 50 in the 12th over.
The Pakistani duo kept the scoreboard ticking with rotation of strike and hit the bad balls to the boundary to bring up the team’s 100 in the 22nd over.
Just when he was looking threatening, Rizwan fell to a direct hit at the non-striker’s end by Dipendra Singh Airee in search of a quick single. Rizwan paid the price for not grounding his bat, something not acceptable at the highest level.
While Babar kept one end steady, Salman Agha (5) failed to trouble the scorers much, falling prey to Sandeep Lamichhane.
Babar brought up his fifty with a double in the 29th over. But Iftikhar’s arrival gave the much-needed boost to Pakistan’s innings as he played aggressively from the onset.
Iftikhar’s approach seemed to have inspired Babar as well as he too opened up his arms thereafter and found the boundaries at will.
Babar brought up his ton off 109 balls in the 42nd over.
The duo, especially Iftikhar, toyed with the Nepalese bowlers as it rained fours and sixes at will from there on. Iftikhar brought up his maiden ton off just 67 balls.
Babar fell just seven runs short of his personal best score.