Babar Azam, Iftikhar Ahmed hit tons as Pakistan crush Nepal in Asia Cup

Pakistan's players (R) celebrate after winning the Asia Cup 2023 cricket match between Pakistan and Nepal at the Multan Cricket Stadium in Multan on 30 August 2023.

World number one batsman Babar Azam and Iftikhar Ahmed scored punishing hundreds as Pakistan thrashed Nepal by 238 runs in the opening game of the Asia Cup in Multan on Wednesday.

Skipper Azam smashed a 131-ball 151 for his 19th ODI hundred while Ahmed scored an unbeaten 109 in 71 balls for his first as Pakistan piled up 342-6 in 50 overs.

The home team then bundled out Nepal for a mere 104 in 23.4 overs with leg-spinner Shadab Khan taking 4-27 while the pace duo of Haris Rauf took 2-16 and Shaheen Shah Afridi 2-27.

Only Sompal Kami (28), Aarif Sheikh (26) and Gulsan Jha (13) made it into double figures as Nepal struggled against Pakistan's much-vaunted bowling attack.

The win gives Pakistan, who rose to world number one in the ODI rankings last week, an ideal start and perfect tune up for the high profile clash against arch-rivals India in Pallekele on Saturday.

The Asia Cup is being played on a hybrid model this year with Pakistan hosting four matches and Sri Lanka nine after India refused to tour Pakistan because of political tensions.

Pakistan, India and Nepal are in Group A while title-holders Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are in Group B

Sri Lanka and Bangladesh meet in Pallekele on Thursday.

Azam admitted victory was the perfect platform for the duel against India -- first ODI between the arch-rivals since 2019.

"This game was good preparation for the India game because it gave us confidence," said Azam who became the fastest to 19 ODI hundreds in 102 innings, beating South Africa's Hashim Amla whose 19 came in 104.

"We want to give 100 per cent every match."

Nepal skipper Rohit Paudel described the match as "a good learning" experience.

"We started well but Azam and Ahmed took the game away," said Paudel. "We let ourselves down with the bat, but it's a good learning."

Nepal, playing in the Asia Cup for the first time, had bowled well to keep the home team down to 124-4 in the 28th over but were helpless in the final overs against the onslaught from Azam and Ahmed.

The pair added a robust 214 off 131 balls for the fifth wicket, which took Pakistan to a formidable total.

Azam cracked 14 boundaries and four sixes while Ahmed hit 11 boundaries and four sixes, helping Pakistan to 129 runs in the last 10 overs including 67 in the final five.

Azam was dropped on 55 when Karan Chhetri put down a caught-and-bowled chance, while Nepal's ground fielding also often faltered.

Pakistan lost opener Fakhar Zaman for 14 in the sixth over, while Imam-ul-Haq was run out for five to leave Pakistan tottering at 25-2.

Azam added 86 for the third wicket with Mohammad Rizwan (44) before Rizwan was also run out. Agha Salman fell for five, leaving Azam and Ahmed to mount a rescue operation.

Ahmed's previous best ODI score was 94 not out against New Zealand in Karachi this year.

Fast bowler Kami was the best for Nepal with 2-85.