Sarfraz Ahmed’s men have invoked the spirt of their 1992 champions following a difficult start to the competition and entered Saturday’s clash at Headingley on the back of successive victories over South Africa and New Zealand.
But they were forced to work in the face of an exceptional Afghanistan performance, rallying from 156/6 in pursuit of 228 on the back of Imad’s unlikely intervention.
With the run-rate rising, the No. 7 stuck Gulbadin Naib’s ninth over for 18, before Wahab’s crucial maximum from off Rashid Khan helped leave Pakistan – now seven down – requiring six from the final set of six.
It proved a bridge too far for Afghanistan, who narrowly missed out on a first World Cup victory over a full-member nation as Imad’s cover-driven four ended matters with two balls remaining.
Naib’s men, having chosen to bat, were quickly under pressure thanks to Shaheen Afridi.
The paceman went for 10 from his first three balls – including two overthrows from his own wild effort at the stumps – but was quickly smiling as Naib was given out caught behind on review, before Hashmatullah Shahidi spooned a catch to mid-off next ball.
But Afghanistan recovered thereafter, Afghan sparking the minority of fans to life with a 35-ball 42 featuring two powering sixes. The innings was undermined by the untimely losses of wickets, with Imad, Wahab and Shadab Khan each delivering timely interventions to support Afridi – who became the first teenager to claim four scalps in a Men’s World Cup contest.
Najibullah Zadran flickered towards the end by matching Afghan’s 42, but 227 seemed sub-par.
Until, at least, the first ball of the reply, Fakhar pinned in front by Mujeeb Ur Rahman. Babar, as has been the case throughout the tournament, immediately brought calm to proceedings by unfurling a glorious cover-drive to the fence.
He and Imam-ul-Haq shared 71, but Afghanistan weren’t giving up; Mohammad Nabi had the latter (36) stumped before bowling the former (45) around his legs. As tension around the ground grew palpable, the underdogs turned the screw.
Mohammad Hafeez late cut Mujeed straight to point, Rashid Khan pinned Haris in front and Sarfraz Ahmed was run out attempting a second. Yet, with a win seemingly in their sights, Afghanistan were powerless to stop Imad (49*) as he took Pakistan to a stunning success.