Swagger. It's the best word to describe Afghanistan in the 2018 Asia Cup so far. They showed plenty of it on Friday, using their spin might, batting depth and new-ball craft to trounce Bangladesh by 136 runs in Abu Dhabi. The match itself may have been inconsequential, with both teams already through, but this performance was one to celebrate.
And perhaps no one deserves to celebrate more than Rashid Khan. On his 20th birthday, he rescued his team with a brilliant, unbeaten 32-ball 57. It shored up a stuttering Afghanistan innings and lifted them to a competitive 255 for 7. He then tantalised with his legbreaks and googlies to snare 2 for 13 and, late in the innings, fired a direct hit to fell Abu Hider and mark the ninth Bangladesh wicket to fall. They succumbed soon, for 119. Gulbadin Naib wasn't far behind with his allround contribution, while Mujeeb Ur Rahman started and finished Bangladesh's batting debacle.
Asghar Afghan, the Afghanistan captain, had indicated at the toss that he would be happy with a total of 250. At 160 for 7 in the 41st over, Afghanistan were far from it. But Rashid and Naib made it happen with a 97-run partnership - an Afghanistan record for the eighth wicket in ODIs. The late hitting snatched the game away from Bangladesh, even as memories must have come flooding back, of the first-ever ODI between the two sides in the 2014 Asia Cup.
Even more spectacular was Afghanistan's hold over Bangladesh in the chase, as they didn't give away a single boundary in the first 14.1 overs. By the time Rashid joined in the fun, Naib, Aftab Alam, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi had underlined Afghanistan's strength in defending totals.
Mujeeb stifled the debutant Nazmul Hossain Shanto, who was caught off a wild heave in the fourth over, before Aftab trapped Liton Das leg-before in the next over. Mominul Haque, playing his first ODI in more than three years, tickled Naib down the leg-side. Naib had to insist on reviewing, after the umpire had called it a wide down the leg-side.
After Naib's second wicket, that of Mohammad Mithun in the 15th over, Rashid hustled and harried Shakib and Mahmudullah, Bangladesh's last remaining hopes. Shakib was lbw to one that ripped through his backfoot defence, and Mahmudullah was bowled after missing a googly.
Mosaddek Hossain was unbeaten on 26 off 60 balls - a consolation innings in an inconsequential match - as Bangladesh folded for 119 in 42.1 overs, according to espncricinfo.
The story would have been quite different had Bangladesh bowled better in the slog overs. But Naib and Rashid counter-attacked skillfully. Naib pulled Hider for two fours in the 42nd over, before pasting Rubel over midwicket for his fourth boundary. Rashid started off with a swept four in Shakib's last over, before launching Rubel for a four and a six, in a 17-run 45th over. It was an over that suggested something was afoot.
Rashid finished the 48th over with two fours off Mashrafe, who also went for 17, before returning for the innings' final over that cost 19. Rashid pulled him for successive fours, before slicing the fifth ball over point to bring up his fifty and his team's 250. The innings finished with Rashid's eighth four, through cover; it prompted Naib to gesticulate a salaam to Rashid for his brilliant performance.
Hider had earlier removed Ihsanullah Janat, who was caught off a long-hop, and Rahmat Shah, with a peach of an in-dipper, before taking a brilliant boundary-line catch to dismiss Mohammad Shahzad. Asghar Afghan and Samiullah Shenwari couldn't support Shahidi, who made 58 off 92 balls with three fours.
Shakib removed Afghan and Shenwari to complete a four-wicket haul, before Rubel had Shahidi caught-behind in the 38th over. Mohammad Nabi, too, failed with the bat, but his dismissal was the last bit of happiness for Bangladesh in the game.
Afghanistan, though, were a joy to watch.
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