Pakistan crushed Nepal by 238 runs, led by captain Babar Azam's scintillating 151 runs and was well supported by Iftikhar Ahmed's first ODI century in the opening game of the Asia Cup 2023 on Wednesday. After deciding to bat first, Babar and Iftikhar were crucial in helping Pakistan reach 342 for six in 50 overs.
After a slow start, Babar (151 off 130) was a part of two vital partnerships that helped Pakistan to a commanding total. First, he added 86 runs with Mohammad Rizwan (44 off 50), and then he and Iftikhar (109 not out off 71 balls) shared a quick 214 runs for the fifth wicket.
Iftikhar, who was at his destructive best, smashed 11 boundaries and four smashes over the fence while Babar embellished his innings with four sixes and 14 fours. This came after Pakistan's innings got off to a lacklustre start with the loss of both of their openers.
It turned out to be a Herculean effort for Nepal, as it was always going to be. With two consecutive boundaries off Shaheen Shah Afridi's first two deliveries, Kushal Bhurtel gave Nepal's pursuit a valiant start. However, it was short-lived as the master left-armer staged an incredible recovery to dismiss both Bhurtel and Nepal's captain Rohit Paudel in the next two balls of the over.
As Nepal slid to 14 for 3, Naseem Shah entered the fray in the subsequent over and forced an outside edge from Aasif Sheikh, which Iftikhar pounced on in the first flip.
Following their 59-run fourth-wicket stand, Aarif Sheikh (26) and Sompal Karmi attempted to calm the situation before Haris Rauf broke through the former's defence. The best scorer for Nepal, Sompal (28), was then dismissed by Rauf one over later, bringing the Himalayan nation to 82 for 5.
As Nepal's batters failed to put up any opposition after that, wickets started to fall like nine pins, and they were eventually bowled out for 104 in 23.4 overs.
Shahdab Khan finished off Nepal and returned with amazing stats of 4 for 27.
Earlier, Iftikhar's presence gave Pakistan's innings the much-needed lift as he played aggressively from the start. Babar also appeared to have been motivated by Iftikhar's strategy since he afterwards extended his arms and freely explored the boundaries.
Babar reached his century in the 42nd over off 109 balls. The pair, notably Iftikhar, played around with the Nepalese bowlers as fours and sixes started to fall freely after that. Iftikhar needed just 67 balls to reach his first century. Babar fell just seven runs short of his personal best score.
(With PTI inputs)