It was the best finish at the Asia Cup 2018 by a mile, and making it happen were the magnificent men from Afghanistan – a thrilling last-over tie against India, a result Asghar Afghan, their captain, later called ‘like winning’.
The last over of the Super Four game: India, chasing 253 for victory, were 246-9. Ravindra Jadeja and Khaleel Ahmed at the crease, Rashid Khan with the ball. Dot. Four. One. One. That tied the scores. Jadeja on strike. Khan spins one into the left-hander and Jadeja can’t keep his pull down. Caught at mid-wicket.
Looking at the celebrations, one would have been forgiven for thinking that Afghanistan had won something major. They had, actually, even if it came after two losses in the Super Fours and only let them finish on a positive note.
“It’s a really proud moment for my team and me. We’ve played good cricket in Asia Cup. The way we’ve finished today, I am proud. Credit goes to the guys. It’s a history for Afghanistan because we have never played such cricket before in Asia Cup,” said Afghan.
“Yeah, when you tie with a team like India, it’s like winning. They usually chase easily. It is good for the fans as well.”
— ICC (@ICC) September 25, 2018
And he is right. Still newcomers at the highest level even if they sometimes don’t look it, Afghanistan took their Super Four games against Pakistan and Bangladesh to the last over before losing them.
This went down to the wire too, and, though it was a depleted Indian side facing them, it ended in a great result for Afghanistan. Only their second ODI against India, and they have a tie to go with the defeat in 2014.
— Shahid Afridi (@SAfridiOfficial) September 25, 2018
Khan, the talismanic Afghan leg-spinner, did the trick in the end, but the evening belonged to Mohammad Shahzad, the portly opening batsman. Shahzad smashed an incredible 124 runs from the top of the order in just 116 balls – when he fell, in the 38th over, the team total was only 180.
Mohammad Nabi, the star all-rounder, then took Afghanistan to 252-8 with a 56-ball 64.
“Today’s wicket was good for us because it was a spinning wicket, especially for Shahzad. On this type of track, Shahzad played very positive cricket. What we saw today was the real Shahzad, unfortunately it came in the last match,” gushed Afghan.
For his part, Shahzad said, “I had planned to hit every ball today because we are leaving tomorrow. So I saw the ball, and hit it today. Feeling proud to have played against some good teams of Asia, so happy with my innings. The main game for me is to perform well with the bat.”
— Tom Moody (@TomMoodyCricket) September 25, 2018
The Indians, without Virat Kohli for the tournament, left out top-performing openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, as well as Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Yuzvendra Chahal, their bowling frontmen.
Opening instead were KL Rahul and Ambati Rayudu, and they played their part with a 110-run stand. Rahul scored 60 and Rayudu 57.
The result didn’t quite go their way, but Rahul was understandably impressed with what he saw from the Afghans.
“In the past two-three years, we have seen how much improvement as a team Afghanistan have made,” Rahul said. “We’ve seen likes of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb [Ur Rahman], Nabi… all these guys play in the IPL and still performing and they played around the world in different franchises.
“Overall, as a team, in the present times, we can’t look at Afghanistan as if they will walk over. They are very competitive as a one-day and T20 side. They keep proving it over and over again. The way they played today, it was really exciting.”
After Rayudu and Rahul fell, only Dinesh Karthik stood up with an innings of 44 from No.3, while Kedar Jadhav, Jadeja and Deepak Chahar got into double-digits but couldn’t do too much.
“I don’t think we crumbled. When the ball starts slowing up and spinning like that, it is hard for middle order batsmen to come in and get the runs going. I think DK played really well, few good partnerships with Kedar and, in the end, Jadeja and Deepak put up a decent fight,” said Rahul.
“So on wickets like this, I think as an opening batsman when we’ve got a start like that we are backing ourselves to finish the game and not let the middle-order guys struggle in the middle.
“As a cricketer, you’d want to be part of such games where both teams compete till the end and if the result would have gone in our favour then we would have been happier but nonetheless, we’re still happy to have played a game like this and it will stay in our memories for a long time.”
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