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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

Brave Afghanistan tie game against India to bow out of Asia Cup

Afghans post 252-8 on back of superb hundred from Mohammed Shahzad before their bowlers trigger Indian batting order collapse in Dubai

Afghanistan opener Mohammed Shahzad scored a brilliant century against India on Tuesday. AP Photo
Afghanistan opener Mohammed Shahzad scored a brilliant century against India on Tuesday. AP Photo

Afghanistan enjoyed perhaps the sweetest moment yet of their 15-year rollercoaster ride in international cricket, as they held India to a tie in a stunning Asia Cup meeting in Dubai.

Mohammed Shahzad hit a sparkling century, and then an inspired display in the field by the Afghans brought about an extraordinary finish as India wilted in the heat.

The Indians will go into Friday’s final, against the winner of Bangladesh’s meeting with Pakistan in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, with an undefeated record in this tournament.

Afghanistan could have come no closer to inflicting their first defeat, though.

With one run required to win, and two balls from Rashid Khan remaining, Ravindra Jadeja found the only fielder who had been left out on the boundary rope.

Najibullah held the catch that meant the sides finished on 252 runs apiece after 99.5 overs of enthralling cricket.

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The Cricket Pod

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The fact Afghanistan will not be featuring in Friday’s final feels overwhelmingly harsh. They have provided so much of the most compelling entertainment over the past 10 days at this tournament in the UAE.

Their losses to Bangladesh and Pakistan - by three runs and three wickets respectively - earlier in the Super Four rendered the final game against India meaningless. Even so, they managed to leave the most indelible impression.

Shahzad had been simmering previously in the tournament, without making the big statement he craved. He saved his best for last in an extraordinary effort against the Indians.

The rotund wicketkeeper hit a rapid, six-laden century. That is nothing out of the ordinary for Shahzad, but what was striking was how against the run of play it was.

Seldom, if ever, has a batsman dominated a bowling attack that has simultaneously been dominating the game.

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When he flicked a four down leg-side to reach 103, Afghanistan were 131-4 at the time. Gulbadin Naib, the non-striker was the next highest scorer, on 15, and he fell straight after. Kuldeep Yadav, India’s left-arm wrist-spinner, had two for eight from six overs at the time.

Shahzad eventually went for 124 – with the score on 180-6 – and at least the rest managed to contribute something thereafter. Mohammed Nabi hit 64 from 56 balls from No 7, as the Afghans reached 252-8.

Accepted wisdom before this tournament might have had that down as a competitive total, but India showed last time out that they can make a nonsense of such targets. They had chased 238 with nine wickets and over 10 overs in spare against Pakistan.

Indian opening batsman Lokesh Rahul top-scored for India against Afghanistan on Tuesday. AFP
Indian opening batsman Lokesh Rahul top-scored for India against Afghanistan on Tuesday. AFP

Even though they had an entirely new opening partnership, Lokesh Rahul and Ambati Rayudu batted like they were keen to be noticed.

Maybe neither will force their way past Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, given the first-choice pair’s form, for Friday’s final, but they at least made their presence felt. Rayudu made 57 off 49, Rahul 60 in 66, and they shared an alliance for the first wicket worth 110.

India were rocked, though, by twin strikes from each of Nabi and Aftab Alam, and three run outs, too. Once the slide had started, India could not arrest it – at least not to the point of forcing a fifth straight win in Dubai.

Although both sides wore smiles at the end, it felt as though Afghanistan has proved their point.