“At the back of the mind, I thought this is T20 cricket, and I have seen Naseem bat like this, so I had a little bit of belief,” Babar said at the post-match presentation. “This reminded me of Javed Miandad’s six in Sharjah.”
A relieved Babar also admitted the mood was anything but calm as Pakistan kept losing wickets. Pakistan were 87 for 3 at one stage with victory well within their sight, before they lost 6 for 31. When Naseem walked in to bat at No. 10 – with, as he later said, No. 11 Mohammad Hasnain’s bat because his own bat was “not that good” – Pakistan needed 20 runs off 10 balls. And when they lost Asif Ali in the same over, the equation was an even more tense 12 off seven balls with one wicket left. Naseem, who made his T20I debut only 10 days ago, was yet to score a run in international T20s.
At stake was a place in the final, but Naseem seemed quietly confident. Over the next few minutes, the entire dressing room would have barely believed what they saw, watching two sixes sail over the rope as they roared in jubilation. Naseem had a big smile, tears of joy even as he was flanked by his team-mates. Wasim Akram, who also played that famous game all those years ago, also couldn’t contain his excitement, embracing Naseem in a warm hug.
Minutes later, Naseem, still visibly pumped up and excited at the turn of events, narrated what his mindset was as he had taken strike. “When I came in to bat, I had the belief I could hit sixes,” he said. “I practice this. I knew they would bowl yorkers. I just tried and I executed. I had spoken earlier itself that we need to have belief, we can hit. We train in the nets, so that belief was there. I felt my bat was not good, so I changed it (laughs).
“Asif [Ali] was batting when I came in, the idea was to give him single but when he got out, I thought it was all on me. In such matches, when you lose the ninth wicket, no one expects you [to win it], but I had belief that I can. I practice hitting a lot. This will be a memorable game for me. Everyone’s forgotten I am a bowler!”
Shadab Khan, who was named Player of the Match for his crucial 26-ball 36, wasn’t going to forget Naseem’s heroics in a hurry. “Those sixes will always be remembered,” he said. “Our management has promoted our bowlers to bat a bit, because you don’t know what situation will come in a game. Our bowlers also have calibre to finish games with the bat.”
Babar spoke of the palpable tension and the ecstasy that followed. “To be honest, it was quite a tensed environment in the dressing room,” he said. “We couldn’t build partnerships like last few games, but the way Naseem finished it, you could see the mahaul (vibe) after that.”
A vibe sparked by the fact that Pakistan will meet Sri Lanka in the final of the Asia Cup come September 11.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo