Mustafizur Rahman bowled a superb last over, conceding just four runs when eight were needed, as Bangladesh won the Asia Cup Super Four match against Afghanistan by three runs at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
With Pakistan losing the day's other match to India in Dubai, yesterday's result turns Bangladesh's last Super Four match against Pakistan on September 26 into a virtual semifinal.
Defending 250 after the returning Imrul Kayes and Mahmudullah Riyad put on a Bangladesh-record sixth-wicket stand of 128 to help the Tigers post 249 for seven, Afghanistan brought the match to a thrilling finish, needing 19 runs off the last 12 balls with five wickets in hand.
Mohammad Nabi hit Shakib Al Hasan for a six in the second ball of the penultimate over but holed out off a full toss in the next ball. Two more singles and a couple brought the equation down to eight from six.
But a brilliant last over followed from Mustafizur, who caught and bowled Rashid Khan in the second ball and conceded just two more leg byes. Needing four off the last ball, Gulbadin Naib threw everything he had at the last delivery, but just the bat flew out of his hand as the ball made it safely to wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim.
It was not a complete performance from Bangladesh by any means as they were cut down to 87 for five by senseless batting before the rescue act. But it was a shining example of the Tigers holding their nerve.
Also, batting the left-handed Imrul -- who flew in just the previous night -- at number six for the first time in his career to counter Rashid was a triumph for out of the box thinking that Bangladesh seemed to have lacked thus far in the tournament.
After losing a few wickets, Afghanistan planned to preserve wickets and set up a late charge. Hashmatullah Shahidi put on 63 runs for the third wicket with Shahzad, whose was bowled by Mahmudullah. Another 88-run stand followed between skipper Asghar Afghan and half-centurion Shahidi. Mashrafe scalped both within four overs -- Asghar in the 40th over and Shahidi in the 44th – setting up a thrilling finish.
Earlier after Bangladesh won the toss, they found themselves in the all-too-familiar situation of being two down without many runs on the board. Nazmul Hossain Shanto and Liton Das went past the Tigers' highest opening partnership of 15 in the 2018 Asia Cup before Nazmul threw his wicket away.
In the fifth over, the left-hander backed away and swung his bat and skied it for a catch in the infield. That Mithun strode in next implied that the team had an unprecedented role for Imrul in mind because he had never batted lower than number three in 70 previous ODIs. Mithun, however, was trapped in front in the next over by Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
Mushfiqur Rahim then came in, needing seven runs to become only the third batsman after Tamim Iqbal and Shakib to score 5,000 ODI runs for Bangladesh. Mushfiqur reached the coveted mark with a four in the 10th over, before being dropped at slip on nine off Mujeeb in the next over.
Liton first showcased his talent with a sublime, lofted inside-out cover drive to Rashid for four but then displayed his lack of sense by slog-sweeping the next ball and top-edging to slip to walk back for 41 off 43 balls.
Disaster struck a ball later when Shakib bunted the ball straight to short midwicket and inexplicably took off down the pitch, and the direct hit was not really needed to find the all-rounder hopelessly short of his crease.
That is when Imrul walked in, but there was to be one more setback to come. Rashid's introduction had set the cat among the pigeons. A ball after a misfield gave Imrul a four to fine leg, Mushfiqur shot out of the non-striker's end even though Imrul played the ball near the short midwicket. The result was the second needless run-out in three overs and at 87 for five, Bangladesh were staring down the barrel.
Although Mahmudullah's arrival usually inspires confidence in crisis situations, his cluelessness while playing Rashid in their first encounter of the tournament did not offer much hopes of a recovery. That is where Imrul's proficiency against spin and the fact that he is a left-hander came in handy.
After nerves settled, Mahmudullah started unfurling his wide array of shots and the 50 partnership was brought on in the 32nd over, just 10.5 overs after they came together.