STAND AND DELIVER: Afghanistan's Asghar Stanikzai follows the path of the ball after dispatching it for a six on way to hammering an unbeaten 90 in his side's Asia Cup match against Bangladesh at Fatullah yesterday. PHOTO: FIROZ AHMED
The fear was there before the match, the tension was mounting after Afghanistan made a comeback to score 254 after recovering from 90 for five, the heart was racing when aggressive left-arm pacer Shapoor Zadran sent Shamsur Rahman's off stump for a walk in the first over and Hamid Hassan trapped Anamul Haque in front in the next. Finally, the Tigers' nightmare came true at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium last night. Ziaur Rahman's whirlwind, lucky knock in the late stages after Nasir Hossain's four reprieves was not enough for the Tigers to salvage pride as Lady Luck could not deny the real heroes in the end.
Afghanistan posted a 32–run victory in their second match in the Asia Cup to mark a new high for the war-torn country and silenced the 12,000-strong partisan crowd as well as million fans all over the country. Afghanistan's indomitable spirit has already produced a sharp rise in world cricket and this victory gave them their first win against full member country only in their fourth match against a top-ranked side. Afghan coach Kabir Khan said after the Pakistan match that they had targeted at least one win in their first appearance in the Asia Cup and their dream was fulfilled, leaving Bangladesh in ruins.
The day however started in favour of the home side as Mushfiqur Rahim was declared fit to lead the side in the vital game, and the little man called rightly at the toss and asked Afghanistan to bat first to nullify the night-time dew factor. When some accurate bowling from the Bangladesh spinners on a slow pitch stifled Afghanistan early on and reduced the visitors to 90 for five, everybody was anticipating a show of the Tigerss' supremacy over an Associate Member nation.
But Asghar Stanikzai and Samiullah Shenwari seized the initiative brilliantly with an Asia Cup record sixth-wicket partnership of 164 in 138 balls -- which was also the second-best for Afghanistan for any wicket -- to set a challenging target of 255 for the Tigers. Once again Bangladesh displayed a pathetic failure to cash in on early inroads.
Shenwari and Stanikzai first consolidated by milking ones and twos and then tore the home bowlers apart once they crossed 150. They scored 107 in the last 10 overs. Stanikzai registered his best score of 90 and Shenwari scored 81 off only 69.
After the initial jolt in the chase, Bangladesh recovered somewhat through Mushfiqur and Mominul Haque's 68-run third wicket stand but the departure of the Bangladesh skipper to a doubtful leg-before decision by South African umpire Johan Cloete opened the floodgates.
Mominul was dismissed soon after completion of his half-century and Nasir was simply a shadow of the player who earned the tag of Mr. Finisher as he survived on 1, 4, 14 and 31 but could not capitalise.
The writing was on the wall when Bangladesh reached 129 for four, requiring more than eight runs per over. A 22-ball 41 from Ziaur could only reduce the margin but not the embarrassment.