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Asia Cup: Afghanistan narrowly missed the Super Four against Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka survive a spirited Afghanistan chase to reach Super Four

Sri Lanka survived an almighty scare and threat to their Super Fours qualifications as Afghanistan nearly pulled off a spirited run-chase, spearheaded by Mohammad Nabi’s scintillating innings. In a game of small NRR margins, Afghanistan had their backs to the wall as Kusal Mendis’s breezy knock of 92, following a solid start from openers Pathum Nissanka and Dimuth Karunaratne, left Hashmatullah Shahidi’s team to do the unthinkable to stay alive.

The aforementioned “unthinkable” – chasing down 292 in 37.1 overs – was worsened by the Sri Lanka pacers striking thrice inside the PowerPlay. Kasun Rajitha snuffed out one of Afghanistan’s biggest hopes in a tough chase like this one, as Rahmanullah Gurbaz nicked one to Mendis behind the stumps in the third over. In the fifth, Ibrahim Zadran played one ball from Rajitha on to his stumps to leave the chasing side two down for 27 runs.

Dasun Shanaka’s decision to turn to left-arm spin of Dunith Wellalage lasted just one over as Gulbadin Naib aimed to get a move on from the early wobble. He and Rahmat Shah got two good overs worth 21 runs before Matheesha Pathirana arrived and trapped Naib leg before with his first ball. Naib walked back with a failed review in tow.

Afghanistan captain Hashmatullah Shahidi joined Rahmat to keep his side alive, taking on the likes of Shanaka and Dhananjaya de Silva. The proactive start to this partnership dragged the equation for Afghanistan down to 181 in 20 overs – a target often deemed gettable on such a surface in the shortest format.

Sri Lanka however, hit back with the wicket of Rahmat in the 19th over as he chipped his lofted shot to Pathirana at mid-on. Mohammad Nabi arrived next and took the game by the scruff of the neck, as he started off with a straight six down the ground off Wellalage and then got two fours – one a streaky outside edge and another an inside-out shot over extra cover – against Theekshana.

The game truly began to turn when Nabi welcomed Pathirana back into the attack with a six and a four off the first two deliveries. The young pacer was under pressure to nail his wide yorkers and ended up bowling three wides, conceding 20 runs in the over. Shanaka brought himself on and tried to coax a mishit out of Nabi with a change of pace but that didn’t work, as the Afghanistan allrounder hit two fours and one six in the 19-run over.

With a four off Pathirana in the 25th over, Nabi got to a 24-ball half-century – Afghanistan’s fastest in ODI cricket. Shanaka then threw the ball to his strike bowler on the night – Ranjitha – but he too was treated with utmost disdain. Nabi pulled a short ball for a six and then dispatched a slower one over extra cover for another in a 14-run over. He dragged Afghanistan back into the hunt for Super Fours qualification but fell in the 27th over, caught at long-on, for an incredible 65 off 32 balls.

The wicket was meant to deflate Afghanistan’s chase but it didn’t. Shahidi got to his second half-century, and Karim Janat came out swinging for the fences. The equation was down to 71 off 48 balls, still in a very gettable territory with Rashid Khan still to bat. It took two more wickets for him the walk out, with 55 needed off 32 balls.

Rashid and Najibullah Zadran threw their bats around to reduce that equation to 45 off 25 and 27 off 13 with the pressure starting to shift towards Sri Lanka. Shanaka brought back Rajitha for the 37th over to calm things down but Afghanistan turned that on its head too as Rashid hit a four and a six in the first three balls.

Rajitha completed the over well, with Afghanistan needing 15 off 7 balls. Left-arm spinner Wellalage ramped up the pressure with two dot balls to Rashid but the star allrounder hit back by whacking two boundaries and then getting the rub of the green for a third – an inside edge running down to the fine leg fence. Afghanistan needed 3 off 1 ball when Mujeeb Ur Rahman holed out to long on.

But such are NRR calculations that Afghanistan still had a chance if they could level the score (291) and then hit a four by 37.4 overs or hit a six by 38.1 overs. However, Afghanistan batters in the middle – No. 11 Fazalhaq Farooqi and Rashid – didn’t seem to be aware of this possibility as Farooqi defended the next two balls and was out leg before of the next to bring a heartbreaking end to what was a spirited attempt to pull off an unthinkable feat.

Brief ScoresSri Lanka 291/8in 50 overs (Kusal Mendis 92, Pathum Nissanka 41, Charith Asalanka 36; Gulbadin Naib 4-60, Rashid Khan 2-63) beat Afghanistan 289 in 37.4 overs (Mohammad Nabi 65, Hashmatullah Shahidi 59, Rahmat Shah 45, Rashid Khan 27*; Kasun Rajitha 4-79, Dhananjaya de Silva 2-12) by 2 runs

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