Tigers stalking wounded Afghans
Having been at the receiving end of a shattering loss in the first One-Day International, Afghanistan will hope to restore parity and prevent Bangladesh from clinching their 100th win in the must-win second ODI in Dhaka on Wednesday (September 28).
Tigers currently lead the three-match series 1-0.
Bangladesh won the first ODI by seven runs, but for large parts of the clash, Afghanistan was well positioned to close out victory before a collapse in the last ten overs undermined its efforts, according to ICC's media release.
Tigers had set Afghanistan a target of 266, thanks to Tamim Iqbal's 98-ball 80 and Mahmudullah's 62.
With just 77 runs needed in the last ten overs and eight wickets in hand, Afghanistan looked likely to go all the way, but Bangladesh brought its experience to the fore.
Shakib Al Hasan broke the 144-run third-wicket stand between Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi to become Bangladesh's highest wicket-taker in the format, and then gave away just a single run in the 47th over.
The rest of the attack rallied around him, sending in yorkers to chip away at the wickets, and Afghanistan crumbled.
There was elation in the Bangladesh camp at the end of the game, but Afghanistan could hold its head high.
There were signs that Afghanistan had come a long way in international cricket in the way it soaked up the pressure of an away game in front of a vociferous Bangladesh crowd. "It (pressure) wasn't that much," Najibullah Zadran, the middle-order batsman, later said. "The pressure was on Bangladesh as they were playing at home. The big crowd was just for them. They [had to] try to go for win and if they lost, it was big pressure. We are also getting familiar with the big crowds."
Afghanistan, however, will need to improve on the park. Its economy rate was poor, with pacemen Dawlat Zadran and Naveen-ul-Haq, proving expensive.
Dawlat did return four wickets, but it came at the cost of 73 runs, while Naveen finished with 1 for 62 in his ten overs. It will also look to improve on its batting. Despite a good foundation being laid, its middle order was guilty of not playing to the match situation.
Where the need of the hour was for careful grinding down of the target, its batsmen looked to hit their way through and lost wickets in the process.
"We had some of our main players who could hit the ball towards the end," said Najibullah. "But we didn't need to hit those shots in the end, we just needed to get ones or twos. That's why we couldn't get it."
For its part, Bangladesh will know that it shouldn't let victory paper over the cracks. Its pacemen – the returning duo of Taskin Ahmed (back after corrective work on his action) and Rubel Hossain – were particularly expensive in their early spells before pulling things back towards the death. Furthermore, its middle order was also guilty of not building on a foundation. It had 204 on board at the end of the 41st over, but the batsmen then fell in a jiffy and the total wasn't as close to 300 as it would have hoped.
Despite that, though, Shakib believed Bangladesh had turned a corner with the victory. "I think that in such a situation, we should definitely win the game," he said on the eve of the match. "With all due respect to Afghanistan, we should have won the game a lot earlier considering the difference in our rankings. We have lost a lot of close matches due to small errors. I think that is slowly starting to change."
Victory on Wednesday will not only help Bangladesh claim an unassailable lead in the three-match series, it will also signal its 100th win in ODIs. Afghanistan, however, is sure to pose a significant threat to those hopes.
Bangladesh: Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Soumya Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Sabbir Rahman, Mahmudullah Riyad, Mosaddek Hossain, Nasir Hossain, Taijul Islam, Shafiul Islam, Rubel Hossain and Taskin Ahmed.
Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (capt), Amir Hamza, Dawlat Zadran, Fareed Ahmad, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Ihsanullah Karim Janat, Mirwais Ashraf, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Najibullah Zadran, Naveen-ul-Haq, Nawroz Mangal, Rahmat Shah, Rashid Khan, Samiullah Shenwari, and Shabir Noori.