At the opening game of the 2023 Asia Cup in Multan on Wednesday (August 30), Pakistan made an impressive 342/6 against Nepal after electing to bat. Babar Azam’s 19th ODI hundred and Iftikhar Ahmed’s first century came in a record 214-run partnership for the fifth wicket. Iftikhar lived up to his reputation as a big hitter by hitting 11 fours and 4 maximums in his 71-ball stay for 109. Babar’s 131-ball 151 included late cuts, sweep shots, straight hits, one-handed pulls, many flicks, and powerful shots through midwicket.
In the first powerplay, Pakistan was primarily kept in check but lost both of its openers in rapid succession. Fakhar Zaman made a strong effort to block a Karan KC delivery headed in the opposite direction, but he ultimately lost it to the custodian. Imam-ul-Haq was caught short of the crease by Rohit Paudel, the skipper of Nepal, and Pakistan was reduced to two down in the seventh over. Babar and Mohammed Rizwan formed a successful alliance that aided Pakistan’s development. While Rizwan hit most of the boundaries in the beginning, the Pakistani skipper was content to rotate the strike. But when Rizwan failed to ground his bat at the non-striker’s end when setting off for a single, the 86-run stand came to an abrupt end. Agha Salman left Pakistan in a precarious position at 124/4.
While this was going on, Babar scored his third consecutive fifty-plus score and was given a respite when Karan bowled him out. He took advantage of it by striking regular boundaries to speed Pakistan up. As the fifth wicket combination quickly put up a half-century stand, Iftikhar also made rapid runs, including a six off Kami over midwicket, pushing Pakistan’s run rate past 5 for the first time in the innings. In the 31–40 over session, Pakistan scored strongly, scoring 74 runs, while Nepal struggled with numerous misfields. Before Babar struck a couple off Dipendra Singh Airee to complete a 109-ball century, Iftikhar reached his second ODI fifty.
By one-handedly deflecting a slower delivery from Gulsan Jha, Babar scored his first six runs. Following a costly over from Sompal, 20 runs were produced, including two fours and a six over long-off for Babar. Along with playing a one-handed pull and going over cover, he also blasted two sixes against Lamichhane. Even though Iftikhar was hitting boundaries from the other end, Babar was mostly responsible for Pakistan’s 300-run 47th over total. Babar needed 129 balls to reach his second 150 in ODIs, while only 20 deliveries were needed for his third fifty. While Babar was being destroyed, Iftikhar continued to remain unbeaten and reached 100 off 67 balls in the penultimate over. Babar was eventually out in the last over.
Before being caught down the legside in the opening over of the chase, Kushal Bhurtel hit a pair of boundaries off Shaheen Afridi. Afridi’s inswinger caught Paudel squarely in front, and the Nepali captain also took a review. As Aasif Sheikh attempted to push a Naseem Shah delivery away from his body and received an edge to slide, leaving his side at 14/3, Nepal found themselves in even more danger. As he attempted to fend off the Pakistan pacers, Sompal, who was the next hitter to bat, appeared much more composed than the other batters.
In addition, Sompal, who had an inside edge on the Afridi delivery, had a leg-before decision overturned against him. He played a few nice strokes while Aarif Sheikh played some solid support from the other end and a few sharp drives through cover. In Haris Rauf’s first over, Sompal and Sheikh each hit a four, assisting Nepal in reaching 50. Shortly after, the partnership for the fourth wicket put up a half-century stand, although Sheikh appeared a little uneasy against Rauf’s pace and was eventually dismissed by the fast bowler. As Nepal slid to 82/5, Rauf also put an end to Kami’s resistance by getting him to edge to the keeper.
Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab joined the list of wicket-takers as Nepal’s decline continued. Shadab and Jha were both out in the same over by Shadab, while Nawaz bowled Dipendra Singh with an arm delivery. The legspinner wrapped off the game with two wickets in his subsequent over as well, as Nepal was bowled out in the 24th over to begin their inaugural Asia Cup campaign in defeat.