Tigers pull off narrow win
Bangladesh's national cricket team must have been nervous for more than half the game. They must have been dazed and confused. The Afghanistan series was organised in order to help the Tigers get a dose of international cricket ahead of the England series in October, considering that the Tigers last played an ODI in November 2015.
After their close escape in Sunday's game, which saw them scrape past the Afghans by just seven runs in the first ODI at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, they will be wary of exactly what this spirited Afghanistan side are capable of doing for the rest of the series.
Batting first, Bangladesh overcame a slightly shaky start to post 265. Tamim Iqbal top-scored with 80, while Mahmudullah Riyad and Shakib Al Hasan contributed with scores of 62 and 48 respectively before the hosts were bundled out in 50 overs.
In reply, Afghanistan, riding on a record-breaking third wicket stand between Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi -- the two youngsters who put on 144 runs in 32.5 overs -- almost upset Bangladesh.
To Bangladesh's credit, they kept their nerves intact and managed to eek out a win. They were rusty, no doubt. But the main reason behind that seemed to be the fact that this was their first ODI in ten months. And that's also a reason why this win is so important. Having surpassed the initial battle, Bangladesh are expected to play a lot better in the next two games.
Afghanistan had done a number of things right. They bowled better than Bangladesh at the start of the game and even batted better than the hosts for a majority of the game. It was only their performance in the end that let them down.
Like any other inexperienced side, the pressure seemed to get the better of them. Any other team could have, or rather should have, come out victorious in this game.
Shakib, who was the best player on the field for Bangladesh both with the bat and the ball, gave away just one run in the 39th over and brought the equation down to 80 required off 11 overs for the Afghans.
Taijul Islam was given the ball next and after a few dot balls it seemed as though the pressure was getting to the visitors. Shahidi attempted to sweep Taijul for a six and the ball went towards Mahmudullah Riyad at deep midwicket, who dropped a sitter.
The very next over Shakib came back and got Rahmat Shah stumped and there was yet another turn in the tale. Afghanistan now needed 74 runs off 54 balls. That went down to 66 required from 40 after Shahidi managed to get a boundary off Taijul. Taskin Ahmed came in next and gave away nine runs, including a boundary, bringin the equation to 57 off 42.
Taijul was brought back and induced an edge off Shahidi and had him caught for 72 at deep midwicket. A four off the last ball of that over by Mohammad Nabi brought the pressure back on the hosts and now the visitors needed just 49 runs from the last six overs.
That was significantly brought down after Rubel was smacked for two fours with the equation coming down to 38 off 30.
In over number 46, Mashrafe Bin Mortaza got Najibullah Zadran out but was hit for a huge six by skipper Asghar Stanikzai off the very next ball.
With 28 runs required off 24 balls, the turning point came when Shakib came in to bowl his last over.
He gave away just one run. He could have gotten the wicket of Stanikzai as well had Mushfiqur not dropped him behind the stumps off the third ball of that over.
With three overs left, the visitors needed 27 runs. But those three overs were going to be bowled by two bowlers, Taskin and Rubel, who were smacked all over the park for most of the game. However, to the surprise of many, both Taskin and Rubel improved their game just when they needed to.
Taskin kept bowling a series of full length deliveries and yorkers and barely gave Mohammad Nabi and Stanikzai any room to get free. He eventually got Nabi caught at long-off with a slower one and then removed Stanikzai off the last ball. The Afghani skipper was caught by Riyad at the long-off boundary rope.
Needing to defend 21 off two overs and inspired by Taskin's performance, Rubel came in and suddenly rediscovered the yorkers and the full length deliveries in his arsenal. Afghanistan's Rashid Khan, played a scoop off Rubel and fell down in the process of hitting a four through fine leg off the fifth ball and seemed to pull things back for the visitors.
However, off the very next ball, he was bowled while attempting to repeat that shot.
That meant that the visitors needed 13 from the last over with just two wickets in hand. And with Taskin steaming in, that was always going to be difficult.
Taskin eventually just gave away five runs and took two wickets to finish with a four-wicket haul.
It was a victory that Bangladesh had stolen from the visitors. That's because for most parts of the chase, they seemed good to win it.
It was in fact a splendid performance from the visitors. While Bangladesh's batsmen threw their wickets away after getting set, Rahmat and Hashmatullah held on during the crunch moments and ensured that the required run-rate came down further. Unfortunately, the pressure got the batter of them, and they too collapsed towards the end and failed to carry them home.
After losing Shabir Noori and Mohammad Shahzad early during the chase, Afghans were reduced to 46 for 2 in 7.3 overs. Many in the stadium expected the Afghans to collapse from there, but they didn't. Instead the two batsmen played the calmest of knocks.
They first tried to settle down and merely knocked the ball around till over number 16. In the eight overs between over number eight and 16 they scored just 24 runs.
Both Shah and Shahidi unleashed themselves once they got set. Shah in particular was brutal. He kept smacking the spinners, Taijul and Mahmudullah, out of the ground and then brought up his maiden ODI fifty with a calm swing of the bat over deep midwicket in the 31st over for a six against Rubel. He reached the landmark in 70 balls.
By the 31st over, Afghanistan were comfortably poised at 148 for 2, needing just 118 runs from 19 overs with eight wickets in hand.
Mashrafe, in order to exert more pressure, brought back Shakib and himself. The captain and the vice captain bowled in tandem from over number 31, hoping for a breakthrough.
But the Afghans were cleverer. They merely saw through Shakib's overs and while there were a few mishits against Mashrafe, they survived.
The singles were readily available, and one of those quick singles against Shakib in the 34th over brought Shahidi's maiden ODI 50 as well. With 15 overs remaining, they needed 97 runs.
And that's when the pressure of winning the game got to the visitors and they fell apart.