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Pakistan begin Asia Cup by belting debutants Nepal


Captain Babar Azam has notched his 19th ODI hundred and Iftikhar Ahmed smashed 109 off 71 balls as Pakistan opened the Asia Cup with a resounding 238-run win over newcomers Nepal.

Babar's 151 off 131 deliveries and his double-century fifth-wicket stand with Iftikhar provided Pakistan a strong total of 6-342 after the hosts won the toss and elected to bat in the Group A game on Wednesday.

Nepal, making their first appearance in the Asia Cup, were bowled out for 104 in 23.4 overs.

Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah sliced through the top-order with the new ball and then Shadab Khan mopped the tail with 4-27.

Afridi lived up to his reputation of picking up early wickets in white-ball cricket when he had Kushal Bhurtel (eight) caught behind and then pinned captain Rohit Paudel plumb lbw off the next delivery.

Naseem then found a thick outside edge of Aasif Sheikh's (five) bat as Nepal slipped to 3-14 inside the first two overs. Top-scorer Sompal Kami (28) and Aarif Shaikh (26) combined in a 59-run stand before express fast bowler Haris Rauf removed both batters in successive overs and Shadab picked up four wickets in quick time.

Earlier, Nepal ran a few jitters in the Pakistan ranks when Fakhar Zaman (14) edged Karan Khatri Chhetri while Imam-ul-Haq couldn't beat a strong throw of Paudel from mid-on and got run out for five.

But these early setbacks didn't deter the confidence of top-ranked batter Babar, who first added 86 with Mohammad Rizwan (44) and then annihilated Nepal spin and pace with a brisk partnership of 214 off 131 balls with Iftikhar.

Rizwan was run out off another superlative fielding effort of Dipendra Singh Airee before Babar and Iftikhar routed Nepal's inexperienced bowlers. Babar took his time to reach his half-century off 72 balls, while Iftikhar was more attacking before raising his maiden one-day hundred off 67 balls.

Babar reached his 19th century in his 102nd innings — the quickest in ODIs.

Fast bowlers Sompal Kami (2-85) and legspinner Sandeep Lamichhane (1-69) were smacked for boundaries at will that included a couple of one-handed sixes by Babar at backward square leg.

Both batters dominated the latter half of the innings as Pakistan smashed 129 runs off the last 60 balls before Kami picked up the consolation wickets of Babar and Shadab Khan in the last over.

The Asian Cricket Council is organising this year's tournament in two countries — Pakistan and Sri Lanka — after India refused to travel to Pakistan because of political tensions between the two countries.

The ACC accepted Pakistan's hybrid model, according to which India, placed in Group A, will play all their matches in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka will host nine games, including the final on September 17, while Pakistan will host four games.

Group B includes Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and all three teams will play at least one game in Pakistan.