Afghanistan finish unbeaten in Asia Cup first stage


ABU DHABI: Afghanistan have not only topped Group B but also finished unbeaten in the first stage of Asia Cup by defeating Bangladesh by 136 runs.

Earlier, Afghanistan thrashed Sri Lanka and knocked them out of the tournament.

After the heroics with the willow, birthday boy Rashid Khan and Gulbadin Naib showed their class with the ball claiming two wickets apiece as Afghanistan skittled out Bangladesh for 119 in 41.2 overs to win by 136 runs in the last inconsequential Unimoni Asia Cup group fixture against Bangladesh at the Shaikh Zayed Stadium, on Thursday.

Set to chase 256 for win, Bangladesh were on a sticky wicket straight away after being reduced to 17 for 2 with Liton Das and debutant Nazmul Shanto falling prey to Aftab Alam and Mujeeb Ul Rahman cheaply.

Naib then created further dents in the Bangladesh armoury with wickets of Mominul Haque and Mohammad Mithun. And once Khan had the ball in his hands, Bangladesh were simply dancing to his tunes. His spin variations proving a bit too much to handle, including for the experienced Shakib Al Hasan, who gave some resistance with a vigilant 32. Khan finished with exceptional figures of 2 for 13 from 9 overs, with Mujeeb finishing at 2 for 22 from his 8 overs while Naib claimed two for 30 from his six.

Earlier, battle hardened after playing in leagues around the world, Khan had reason to celebrate as he partnered with Naib to rescue Afghanistan’s innings.

Bangladesh, riding on a four-wicket haul by Shakib Al Hasan, had Afghanistan on the ropes after reducing them to 160 for 7 in 40.5 overs. However, Khan and Naib then waged a brilliant counter attack and put up an unbroken record eighth-wicket partnership of 95 runs to take their team from a precarious situation to post 255 for 7 in their 50 overs.

Khan reached his 50 by whacking Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Mortaza for four boundaries in the last over that went for 19 and took the score well past the 250 mark. His partner Naib was unbeaten on 42 off 38 deliveries.

Despite the toss going in favour of Afghanistan skipper Asghar Afghan, Bangladesh bowlers led by their star all-rounder Shakib weathering the scorching heat, put their opponents in a fix with some disciplined bowling in the beginning.

The Bangladesh selectors, knowing how effective Shakib can be on these tracks with ball and bat, had asked him to postpone his surgery on his finger and to take up the team’s cause.

Shakib looked good as soon as the ball was tossed up to him. He extracted enough from the wicket to force a well-set Mohammad Shahzad to err while on 37. Shahzad tried to go after Shakib, ended up finding Abu Hider at long-on. Afghanistan skipper Asghar Afghan (8) and Samiullah Shinwari (18) and Mohammed Nabi (10) were also Shakib’s victims.

This was an inconsequential contest as no matter who finished at the top of Group B, the Asian Cricket Council had scheduled the tournament in such a manner that Bangladesh will face India in the first Super Four match on Friday in Dubai, while Afghanistan will play Pakistan in Abu Dhabi at the same time.

The clash in Abu Dhabi on Thursday night was the last opportunity for the Afghans and Bangladeshis to fine tune things and find the right combination before taking on the two traditional giants of Asian Cricket.

Despite the quick turnaround for the Super Four stages, Afghan surprisingly showed reluctance to tamper much with their winning combination: just one change in Samiullah Shinwari, in place of Najibullah Zadran.

Bangladesh handed ODI debuts to left-arm fast bowler Abu Hider and batsman Nazmul Hossain Santo, who came in place of the injured Tamim Iqbal. Hider replaced Mustafizur Rahman, while Mushfiqur Rahim made a comeback to the squad after a three-year absence in place of the rested Mominul Haque.