Talented wicketkeeper-batsman Umar Akmal notched a breezy century under pressure before the bowlers came to the party and guided Pakistan to a bonus-point 72-run victory over Afghanistan in the Asia Cup on Thursday.
Chasing a challenging target of 249, Afghanistan could only manage 176 in 47.2 overs against a disciplined Pakistan bowling attack.
Put in to bat, Pakistan rode on Akmal's scintillating batting effort to post 248 for eight in their quota of 50 overs on a sluggish pitch at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium.
The batsman smashed an unbeaten 102 off 89 balls after Pakistan were reduced to 117 for six inside 30 overs.
The 23-year-old, who scored 74 off 72 against Sri Lanka in the last match, clobbered three sixes and seven boundaries while helping his team recover from a precarious position.
Afghanistan, in reply, had a poor start as they lost opener Mohammad Shahzad (9) early. His partner, Noor Ali Zadran, played a few attractive shots at the other end.
Zadran made 44 off 63 deliveries and hit seven boundaries, before he was trapped in front by off-spinner Saeed Ajmal.
Asghar Stanikzai and Nawroz Mangal started the resurrection job for Afghanistan and tried to build a partnership. Though the duo put on a 74-run stand for the third wicket, but failed to get the spiraling asking rate down.
While Stanikzai consumed 91 deliveries for his 40, Mangal scored 35 off 57 balls. Both hit three boundaries each in their 119-ball partnership.
With the required rate steadily going beyond reach, the Afghanistan batsman perished in pursuit of quick runs.
Afghanistan lost the wickets of Stanikzai and Mangal in a space of three balls.
Skipper Mohammad Nabi (15) and Najibullah Zadran (1) also failed to make an impact in the run-chase.
The Afghan team faced difficulty in negotiating the Pakistan spin-trio led by Saeed Ajmal, who picked two wickets while giving away just 25 runs in his nine overs.
Shahid Afridi (1/31) and Mohammad Hafeez (3/29), too, kept the opposition batsmen in check, besides chipping in with wickets.
Earlier, wicketkeeper-batsman Akmal reached the three-figure mark with a huge six off the penultimate ball of the innings, clobbering three sixes and seven boundaries.
Opener Ahmed Shehzad (50) and Sharjeel Khan got Pakistan off to a fine start, compiling 55 runs for the opening wicket before the latter was scalped for 25 off 37 balls, including two fours and a six.
Next batsman Mohammad Hafeez (10) joined hands with Shehzad, but the duo could only add 23 runs before Mirwais Ashraf sent Hafeez back to the pavilion.
Shehzad's departure triggered a mini collapse, and from 89 for two Pakistan slumped to 117 for six, losing four wickets for a mere 28 runs.
The Asia Cup debutants dismissed Sohaib Maqsood (13), skipper Misbah-ul-Haq (0) and all-rounder Shahid Afridi (6) and had Pakistan in a spot of bother.
While leg-spinner Samiullah Shenwari cleaned up Shehzad, who hit seven fours in his half-century, Misbah was unlucky to be run-out without facing a ball, and Afridi missed a slog only to find his off-stump uprooted by pacer Dawlat Zadran.
But Akmal continued with his good form and guided Pakistan to a respectable total.
He added 60 runs with Anwar Ali (21 off 36 balls) for the seventh wicket to calm down nerves in the Pakistan dressing room and followed it with a 50-run stand with Umar Gul (15).
The Afghanistan bowlers were wayward in the latter part of the innings, conceding 84 runs in the last 10 overs.
Mirwais Ashraf was the pick of the Afghanistan bowlers, conceding just 29 runs in his eight overs and grabbing two wickets.
Shenwari (2-34) and Dawlat Zadran (2-73) also picked two wickets each, while Hamza Hotak (1-22) chipped in with one.
Image: Umar Akmal
Photograph: Andrew Biraj/Reuters