In the Super Four, Afghanistan may have drawn a blank but they gave the crowd the best games of the tournament.
In the Super Four, Afghanistan may have drawn a blank but they gave the crowd the best games of the tournament.

While India have owned the Asia Cup 2018, the second best team – irrespective of who makes it to the final from Pakistan or Bangladesh – has been Afghanistan. Their wins over Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to top the group were by no means an underdog punching above its weight; these were performances that outclassed the oppositions – by 136 runs and 91 runs .

Add to that the great resolve they showed to clinch a memorable tie against India, to bow out of the tournament on a high. It’s a pity that the game was a dead rubber that saw India rest their top players.

In the Super Four, Afghanistan may have drawn a blank, but in their losses – by just three wickets to Pakistan in a last-over thriller, by three runs to Bangladesh in a last-ball finish – and the tie, Asghar Afghan‘s team gave the crowd the best games of the tournament, especially with the marquee clashes of India and Pakistan proving to be damp squids.

However, they still finished with two losses and two wins. Despite taking the fight to every team, Afghanistan lost out on crucial moments of the game and their lack of experience in pressure situations proved to be their downfall.

Shahidi looks for his milestone

Afghanistan’s Hashmatullah Shahidi is the third highest run-getter in the tournament so far
Afghanistan’s Hashmatullah Shahidi is the third highest run-getter in the tournament so far

Against Pakistan in the first Super Four match, Hashmatullah Shahidi had taken his team to 243 with one over remaining. Then he innovated to take three consecutive fours off the last over, moving in to the 90s. A single followed after which Gulbadin Naib hit one straight past the bowler for an easy two. Shahidi, though, refused the second to have a shot at his maiden hundred. He failed to connect in the last ball and in the subsequent disappointment, turned down another opportunity for a run.

While Shahidi played his heart out throughout the innings, he went after his personal milestone in the final over costing his team at least two more runs. Two hours laters, Aftab Alam was defending ten runs off the final over. What if he had 12 to defend?

Sloppy when under pressure

They eventually had Pakistan under the pump in defence of the total, but when Shoaib Malik started to mount a comeback the pressure was on and Afghanistan felt it. With 75 needed off 60 balls, Naib bowled a decent over but was let down by his fielders. After deceiving Haris Sohail with a beautiful slower one, wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad failed to collect the ball cleanly and the subsequent overthrow with no one backing up meant two easy runs for Pakistan.

Two overs later, Samiullah Shenwari missed a direct hit to run-out Malik and Naib attempted to collect the ball in front of the wicket to make a hash of another run-out opportunity in the 45th over. In the same over, Naib, under pressure, bowled two wides. Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman’s tight bowling in the end ensured Pakistan had to take the game to the final over. With 10 needed off six, it was a lottery and Malik won it.

But, had those little chances in the field been capitalised on, Alam might as well have been defending 15 to 18 runs in the final over.

Fielding inconsistencies

naib

Against Bangladesh, Afghanistan lacked consistency in the field. While Shenwari brilliantly ran out Shakib Al Hasan with a direct hit, an over later, the 30-year-old just couldn’t pick himself up after letting one go through at short fine leg. Had he ran after the ball, he could possible have saved two runs. Instead, he lay on the ground. The veteran Mohammad Nabi also added six runs through three misfields.

In the chase, Shahidi dropped anchor with a 99-ball 71 (a strike-rate of at 71.71) while Shahzad had a strike-rate of 65. This might be harsh, but in a day and age when a strike-rate below 70 is regarded as criminal in an ODI, Shahzad not being able to accelerate after facing 81 deliveries hampered Afghanistan. Yet, credit to the duo for having struck around.

Nabi then made 38 off 28 to bring Afghanistan back in the game, but his untimely dismissal, just a ball after he hit Shakib for six, caught at long-off off a full toss, once again exposed Afghanistan’s lack of experience in pressure situations.

Nabi had made the equation 12 needed off ten with that six, yet he went for the glory shot and perished. Shakib, the veteran, then tied down Afghanistan by conceding just four runs in his next four deliveries, leaving Rashid and Shenwari to deal with Mustafizur Rahman. Had Nabi been facing Mustafizur, the result may have had changed, but it was not to be.

However, despite these shortcomings, Afghanistan can hold their heads high. They will know for a fact that they could have very well made it to the final of the Asia Cup and no one could have termed it as a fairytale saga.

Afghanistan played like a top flight team and the biggest lessons for them from the tournament is that you may have to slog it out for eight to nine hours, but when it is down to the wire, the pressure of the that last 10-15 minutes is what really matters. Seizing those moments and soaking in the pressure is the biggest learning for this exciting and confident Afghanistan team.

They showed glimpses for that learning against India with two directs hits, tight bowling and some marvellous captaincy by Afghan that ran the top-ranked team as close as they could.