x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Afghanistan pipped to cricket gold by Bangladesh

Teenager Shabbir Rahaman Roman smashes two sixes in the penultimate over to help Bangladesh to a first Asian Games gold and dash Afghanistan's hopes of a fairytale finish.

GUANGZHOU, CHINA // Teenager Shabbir Rahaman Roman smashed two sixes in the penultimate over to help Bangladesh to a first Asian Games gold and dash Afghanistan's hopes of a fairytale finish in the men's cricket final.

Chasing Afghanistan's 118, the 17-year-old's swashbuckling 33 not out swung the Twenty20 match in Bangladesh's favour and they won with three balls to spare, sparking wild celebrations as players rushed with billowing flags on to the ground and embraced.

"We played like tigers today," Rahaman Roman said. "This is the happiest day of my life," added the teenager.

The Afghan cricketers, mostly ethnic Pashtun from the country's southeast, were stonefaced after the loss.

"The Afghanistan people are maybe very sad," said Asghar Stanikzai, his team's top-scorer on the day with an unbeaten 38.

"The silver medal is not [a] big medal but it was a good fight."

With the country's expectations weighing heavily on Afghan shoulders to bring home a first Asian Games gold, their opening batsmen appeared nervous at the crease.

Kazi Shahadat Hossain's standout fast bowling unsettled the opening order and the first wicket went for just one run.

A great diving catch near the boundary by Nazmul Hossain dismissed vice captain Karim Khan Sadeq.

A gutsy innings by Stanikzai, however, spurred Afghanistan to a respectable 118 after a middle-order collapse threatened to leave the team with a paltry score.

The Bangladeshis, wearing green, lost their first wicket in the third over when opener Nazim Uddin scooped a high shot into the hands of Samiullah Shinwarai.

The Afghans, who bowled and fielded aggressively, showed their mettle when Mohammad Mithun was run out in the eighth over with a superb throw from the outfield.

With the game poised on a knife edge, however, Rahaman Rohan stepped forward, surviving a close lbw call, before swatting two straight sixes into the pavilion, sparking wild cheers by green-clad Bangladeshi supporters and Chinese fans.

For the small contingent of Afghan supporters, some wearing skull caps, there was disappointment but also grace in defeat.

"The world knows us for fighting, bombs and bullets but we want to make sure to the world that we are not these things only," said Abdul Khan, waving a large green, red and black flag in the stands on a cool and sunny afternoon.

"We just need a chance. And definitely, I can assure you that our next Olympics or Asian Games, we will go for gold again."

Cricket has become an increasingly popular sport in Afghanistan with a number of academies sprouting up across the war-torn and insurgency wracked land after the game was introduced by Pashtuns who learnt to play in Pakistan refugee camps during the Russian invasion in the 1980s.

In the bronze medal match, Pakistan beat Sri Lanka by six wickets to restore some pride after they were beaten in the semi-finals by Afghanistan on Thursday.

Pakistan won gold in the women's competition with Bangladesh taking silver.