LEEDS: Imad Wasim hit a boundary to finish off a three-wicket win with two balls to spare as Pakistan scraped across the line in a tense finish against Afghanistan.
A small group of fans rushed onto the field to celebrate the victory in the pivotal Cricket World Cup group game, and Prime Minister Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 World Cup, was quickly onto social media commending both teams for their performances at Headingley on Saturday.
The win, Pakistan's fourth in eight games, lifted Sarfaraz Ahmed's team to fourth place in the standings, one point ahead of pre-tournament favourite England. Only four teams will progress to the semifinals.
Wasim finished unbeaten on 49 with Pakistan on 230-7, sharing important lower-order partnerships of 50 with Shadab Khan (11) and 24 with Number 9 Wahab Riaz, who was unbeaten on 15, in a momentum-shifting game. Wasim's was the highest individual score in a low-scoring encounter.
"Thank you all the fans, they cheered every ball. It is a great win for us on not an easy pitch," Sarfaraz said in a post-match TV interview. "We know it was not an easy target. Their bowlers used the conditions very well. Everyone chipped in, it was good team work."
He said the team would be watching closely when England takes on two-time champion India on Sunday.
Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib said the Pakistan players controlled their nerves better, admitting the 18 runs he conceded while bowling the 46th over was a turning point in the match.
"We fight really well, the boys gave 100% but in the end we missed an opportunity to win," Naib said. "Credit to Pakistan. We missed again. The matches we have lost, we have improved."
An injury to veteran pace bowler Hamid Hassan was also a big setback for Afghanistan, as he bowled only two of his permitted 10 overs.
Imran congratulated the Pakistan players and also had praise for the Afghan players, many of whom learned the game while living in Pakistan.
"Congratulations to the Pakistan team for keeping their nerve under pressure and in the end winning against Afghanistan," Imran posted on Twitter. "I also especially want to congratulate Afghanistan for the grit and determination with which they played against Pakistan today & against India earlier."
It was a record eighth consecutive loss for Afghanistan and a second narrow defeat to a regional rival — it followed an 11-run loss to India, although that also went to the last over.
There have been similarities in the campaigns of Sarfaraz's team in England and Imran's team in 1992, when Pakistan won its only World Cup title. Leading into the game against Afghanistan, Pakistan had three wins, three losses and a washout — that's the same record the '92 champions had after seven games.
The most unpredictable team in ODI cricket — Pakistan upset England in between its one-sided loss to West Indies and India to start the World Cup — has a simple equation: Win every game from here.
Teenage paceman Shaheen Afridi took 4-47 earlier as Pakistan restricted Afghanistan to 227-9.
Rahmat Shah scored 35, and former skipper Asghar Afghan and Najibullah Zadran each scored 42 for the Afghans.
After losing Fakhar Zaman on the second ball of the run chase, trapped lbw by Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Pakistan was coasting with Imam-ul-Haq (36) and Babar Azam (45) sharing a 72-run second-wicket stand until Mohammad Nabi struck twice to remove both established batters in consecutive overs.
Imam was stumped on the last ball of the 16th over when he charged Nabi and missed. Babar attempted to sweep a fuller delivery and was bowled.
Still, Pakistan was in a comfortable position at 103-3 halfway through the overs until wickets started dropping and the run-rate was escalating.
Haris Sohail had a reprieve at the end of the 28th over when Afghanistan appealed loudly for a leg-side caught behind, but umpire Nigel Llong ruled not out and neither team had any referrals left. TV replays showed there was a fine edge.
But just when all the momentum seemed to be going entirely Pakistan's way, 18-year-old Mujeeb started a new spell in the 30th over and immediately had Mohammad Hafeez (19) caught at point.
Sohail laboured to 27 from 57 deliveries before being trapped lbw by Rashid Khan and captain Sarfaraz's inexplicable run out for 18 in the 39th made it 156-6. That left Pakistan needing 72 off 11 overs with only four wickets in hand.
After a composed partnership for the sixth wicket, Shadab's run out in the 47th over again set up an equation of 22 runs in 3.2 overs.
The International Cricket Council said it was aware of "some scuffles" outside Headingley during the game and was working with police and security.