In the last league match on Saturday at Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium in Fatuallah, the brilliant Afghanis recorded their first-ever ODI victory against Bangladesh in only their fourth match in a major tournament. It signified, among other things, a war-torn nation’s meteoric rise in the cricketing arena. For the hosts, it was an embarrassing defeat against the most un-fancied side of the Asia Cup. On Sunday at Mirpur, Pakistan beat India in a close contest with Shahid Afridi providing the thrills in closing stages.
When the match began on Saturday afternoon at Fatullah, Afghanistan were asked to bat, as the hosts chose to field after winning the toss. Afghanistan started losing wicket at regular interval and in the 27th over they could only muster 90/5. With 23 overs and the last five batsmen remaining, no one would have put his money on an Afghan victory. Most remaining batsmen were bowlers, who were not expected to do much. But cricket’s great uncertainties, which have made the game intriguing, came to Afghanistan’s rescue. Just when Bangladesh bowlers were getting on top of the Afghanistan batsmen, two Afghanis, going by the names of Asghar Stanikzai and Samiullah Shenwari produced a miracle. They engineered a stunning and almost impossible recovery at a blasting pace and put together a six-wicket stand of 164 runs. When Shenwari fell in the 50th over, the score had already reached a very competitive 254. Shenwari made 69 off 81 balls, studded with 10 fours and a six, while his more subdued partner Stanikzai remained unbeaten at 90, scored off 103 deliveries with 6 fours and 3 mighty sixes.
The shell-shocked Bangladesh lost both the openers by the second over for just 1 run on the board. The Bangladesh captain Mushfiqur Rahim had a huge task on hand. In the company of Mominul Haque, he set about to repair the damage but the duo could only reach 69, before Mushfiqur was trapped leg before by Mohammed Nabi. Mominul continued for some time before he too fell after scoring a half century. With 4 wickets gone for 88 in the 25th over, Afghanistan had an upper hand in the match. But thankfully for Bangladesh, they had another useful stand in the middle order, when Nasir Hussain and Naeem Islam produced another 73-run stand for the fifth wicket. Afghanistan had some major fielding lapses as Nasir Hussain was dropped on four occasions. Once Nasir Hussain departed at the score of 161, three more wickets fell with the addition of only 4 runs. At 165/8, Bangladeshis were in dire straits. Even a 22-ball 42 cameo by Zia-ur Rahman could not help them as the asking rate had gone up sharply. The Afghan bowlers maintained pressure and Bangladesh were all out for 222 and lost the match by 32 runs.
For the match between India and Pakistan on Sunday, the venue shifted to Shere Bangla National Stadium at Mirpur, where all remaining games will be played. The low-scoring game went down to the wire with result coming in the last over of the Pakistan innings. It was as fitting an India-Pakistan finish as possible, with Pakistan requiring 10 runs in the last over with just one wicket remaining. Pakistan had the luxury of having the inimitable Shahid Afridi, whose two mighty heaves off successive balls brought 12 runs and Pakistan emerged victorious.
Earlier India lost the toss and had to bat first. Rohit Sharma played well for a change and his 56 runs provided a good start. But the rate of scoring dropped later when Dhawan and Kohli got out cheaply. Kartik could not score quickly but Rayudu did well to score 58 in middle overs. Ravindra Jadeja produced another of his trademark late-charge in making 52 not out in 49 balls. But the score of 245 was not a match-winning total from any angle. Pakistani slow bowlers did well to tie the Indian batsmen into a tangled knot and rate of scoring slipped.
Facing a modest target of 246, Pakistan began with flourish to put up an opening stand of 71 at a brisk pace. But suddenly some articulated bowling from Amit Mishra and Ravichandran Ashwin produced four quick wickets. At 113/4, with the scoring-rate dropping India saw a real chance of victory. Mohammad Hafeez and Sohaib Maqsood repaired the damage and put on 87 for the fifth wicket. But once they left, India’s chances improved again. Pakistan’s hopes rested in the arms of the amazing Afridi, who didn’t disappoint at least this time.
With the loss in the league match against Pakistan, it should be curtains for India in this Asia Cup, unless some miracle takes place in the coming days. In all probability, the 2014 Asia Cup final will be contested between Pakistan and Sri Lanka on Saturday.