Mujeeb Zadran’s 4 for 43, followed by contrasting fifties from Mohammad Shahzad and Rahmat Shah, helped Afghanistan cruise to a seven-wicket win over Windies in the final of the 2018 World Cup Qualifier on Sunday (March 25).
After bundling Windies out for just 204 runs in 46.5 overs, Afghanistan rode on Shahzad’s captivating 93-ball 84 and Rahmat’s serene 78-ball 51 to finish on 206 for 3 in 40.4 overs at the Harare Sports Club. In the process, they became the eighth team – after Sri Lanka (1979), Zimbabwe (1982, 1986 and 1990), United Arab Emirates (1994), Bangladesh (1997), Netherlands (2001), Scotland (2005 and 2014) and Ireland (2009) – to win this competition.
By cementing their place in the final of the qualifiers earlier this week, both the sides had already qualified for the 2019 World Cup that will be staged in England and Wales from May 30 to July 14. While Windies handed Scotland a heartbreaking defeat to confirm their spot in the 10-team tournament, Afghanistan beat Ireland in the last group league encounter to book their ticket to England.
Set a below-par score for victory, Shahzad, the wicketkeeper-batsman, came out all guns blazing and played some audacious shots to give his side a ferocious start. Gulbadin Naib (14) played the perfect supporting act to put on 58 runs for the opening wicket.
The departure of Naib didn’t bring any relief to Windies bowlers as Shahzad kept on playing aerial shots with great effect. He raced to his fifty off just 45 balls and celebrated his milestone with the champion dance.
Coming in at No. 3, Rahmat constantly rotated the strike with quick singles to keep Shahzad – who smoked 11 fours and two sixes during his stay in the middle – at the striker’s end. The 90-run association was finally broken in the 31st over when Chris Gayle (2 for 38) put a full stop to Shahzad’s entertaining knock. Rahmat too couldn’t survive for long as he became Gayle’s second victim.
With 45 runs required, Mohammad Nabi (27*) joined hands with Samiullah Shenwari (20), and blasted three consecutive sixes to blast Afghanistan over the finish line.
Earlier, Afghanistan’s ploy of starting with Mujeeb paid rich dividends as the offspinner dismissed Gayle for just 10 after Jason Holder won the toss and elected to bat first. Gayle, the destructive left-hand opener, struggled to get going against Mujeeb and ended up skying one towards cover, from where Sharafuddin Ashraf ran back and dived sideways to pull off an absolute blinder.
The in-form Evin Lewis once again looked in great touch and stamped his authority by smashing Mujeeb for three fours in a single over before falling caught behind for 36-ball 27 in Naib’s (2 for 28) first over. Shai Hope (23), the wicketkeeper-batsman, and Marlon Samuels (17) stuck around for a while but failed to convert their starts into something more substantial.
After Hope breached the 1000-run mark in One-Day Internationals, Rashid Khan trapped him plumb in front in the 23rd over. In the process, the teenaged Afghanistan legspinner became the fastest and youngest bowler to reach 100 ODI wickets. He achieved the feat in only 44 games, well ahead of Mitchell Starc who reached the landmark in 52 matches.
After being reduced to 101 for 5, Shimron Hetmyer and Rovman Powell batted with forbearance and added 37 runs for the sixth wicket. The two looked in good touch before Sharafuddin, the left-arm spinner, sent back Hetmyer for a 51-ball 38.
Playing an uncharacteristic knock, Powell hung on for 75 deliveries but ended up losing rhythm. With five overs to go, Asghar Stanikzai, the Afghanistan captain, brought Mujeeb back into the attack and the 16-year-old finished off the job he started by picking up three wickets in the space of four deliveries. Ashley Nurse remained unbeaten on a 29-ball 26 and helped Windies cross the 200-run mark, which in the end proved way too insufficient to stop Afghanistan.