Well fought Afghanistan…..
Afghanistan were a part of the only two nail-biters that Asia Cup has produced so far. The budding side has produced some nerve-wracking moments in the tournament but didn’t manage to qualify for the finals despite doing almost everything right. But almost is never enough and a team cannot afford to step a foot wrong in contemporary cricket. Afghanistan lost their composure in the final moments of two big games on a trot, which cost them a place in the final. With the heart-wrenching loss against Bangladesh on Sunday, Afghanistan became the first team to be knocked out of the tournament and are scheduled to play their final game against India, which is also a dead rubber.
Afghanistan kick-started the tournament with an emphatic win against Sri Lanka; they defended their total of 249 runs by a massive margin of 91 runs. Their spin troika of Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman tested Sri Lanka’s vulnerable batting and did well to carry the team over the line. They carried the winning momentum against Bangladesh and gave a testament of their abilities by registering a 136-runs win over them. They topped the Group A and indications of them doing them in the next round were there to be seen. These win infused a lot of momentum and self-belief in the underdogs.
Till now, Afghanistan won both their games with ease, but the real test was just around the corner. In their first encounter of the Super 4’s against Pakistan, the game was hanging by a thread till the very last over. Afghanistan almost pulled off a very big upset by beating the Asian giants in a high-voltage game. With ten runs required off the final over, Shoaib Malik’s experience harboured Pakistan to safety. The match could have gone either way, but this is where lack of experience in crunch situations got the better of Afghanistan.
Their next assignment was against Bangladesh, who they convincingly defeated in the first round. They needed a win at any cost here in order to stay alive in the tournament. In a pressure game, their bowlers were once again right on the money and restricted Bangladesh to 249. Bangladesh were once precariously placed at 87 for 5, but a crucial partnership between Imrul Kayes and Mahmudullah helped them post a competitive total.
Afghanistan were little sluggish in terms of run-rate during the chase. After a rocky start, the innings was finally rebuilding with Hashmatullah Shahidi and Asghar Afghan taking the command, but a collapse in the death overs saw them needing 58 runs off last 39 deliveries. Mohammad Nabi played a much-needed cameo and steered Afghanistan to the brink of a much-needed victory. The side needed 12 runs off 10 deliveries when lack of experience in these situations got the better of Afghanistan.
All they needed was to rotate the strike and keep nudging the ball here and there for singles. There was no need to go for a big hit as the required run-rate was well under control. Nabi had smashed a six off the second ball of Shakib Al Hasan’s over, but instead of taking a single or placing the ball in gaps, Nabi went for a big hit and holed-out straight to long-off. The damage was done and Bangladesh were once again back in the game, this was the turning point in the game.
Samiullah Shinwari was joined by hard-hitting Rashid Khan as Afghanistan needed 12 off 9. Shinwari got a really loose delivery, but failed to dispatch it for a big six. Afghanistan required 8 runs off the final over, which was always going to be difficult against Mustafizur Rahman. Rashid went for the big hit and lost his wicket. Instead of attacking each and every delivery, they could have kept the singles on and waited for a really loose delivery to attack. They lost the game by three runs as once again a much-needed victory was denied due to lack of experience.
Afghanistan are just 104 ODIs old, but their recent rise has been astronomical. They should have won at least one of these games and remain alive for the big battle against India. So close yet so far! Fans around the globe must be happy with their spirited performance, but at the end of the day, only victory matters. They cannot afford to lose big games with such a small margin on a regular basis, it has happened in two out of two games for them now.
Hopefully, the potential Afghanistani side will learn from their mistakes and finish games in the future. After their performance in the Asia Cup so far, they have definitely got rid of the minnows tag. They have an inspiring spin attack and the batting has done really well so far. These kinds of defeats will not help them boost their self-confidence; they need to convert them into a win. Afghanistan play their last game of the tournament against India, which is also their litmus test.