Last-ball heroics take Afghanistan home
Afghanistan 289 for 6 (Shahzad 118, Ali 114, Chohan 4-39) beat Canada 288 for 8 (Bagai 91, Cheema 61, Shenwari 4-31) by one run
Afghanistan needed a dramatic last-ball run out to edge a thriller against Canada after Ashish Bagai almost carried the underdogs to victory. The packed crowd of Afghanistan supporters, still in full voice following the team's triumph in the World Twenty20 qualifiers, were treated to a fluctuating spectacle of 50-over cricket at its clammy-palmed best as a spirited Canada side came within a whisker of causing an upset.
Chasing an unlikely 289 to win, Canada had timed the chase superbly, needing 38 from the final six overs with captain Ashish Bagai well set on 70, four wickets intact and a Powerplay still in hand. They took full advantage of the first over of fielding restrictions, with Bagai clubbing Shapoor Zadran for two fours and a two to take the equation to 25 from 30 balls.
But the 46th over proved a dramatic turning point as Samiullah Shenwari targeted the tail-ender Umar Bhati and pulled off a crucial maiden, conceding just two leg byes. Karim Sadiq and Mohammad Nabi restricted the next three overs to just 15 to leave a tantalising eight required from the final six balls.
Khurram Chohan managed to get Bagai on strike with a single from the first ball, but Nabi held his nerve and conceded just three of the next four. With four runs needed for victory from the last ball Chohan managed to force it away and scamper two but Bagai was run out by attempting a match-levelling single in a thrilling climax to the game.
It was a cruel end for Bagai who made 91 and, alongside fifties from Rizwan Cheema and Sunil Dhaniram, threatened to carry Canada to victory. Bagai only hit five boundaries as he instead worked the ball around cleverly and ran hard during his 99-ball stay. It was in sharp contrast to Cheema who launched the run chase with a series of boundaries. He butchered Afghanistan's opening bowlers, blazing 11 fours and two sixes on his way to 65 from just 35 balls.
His dashing half-century arrested the momentum which looked firmly Afghanistan's after Noor Ali, the hero from the crucial qualifying game against UAE, and Mohammad Shahzad made rapid hundreds to set up the game for Afghanistan.Shahzad followed up his sterling performance in the final of the World Twenty20 Qualifier with a Man-of-the-Match-earning 118, batting at No. 3 after Sadiq was defeated by Chohan in the third over for a duck.
Together with Ali the pair added 205 in 36 overs as they punished the Canada bowlers. Ali ended up with 114, and in contrasting style to some of his more stodgy knocks in the Twenty20, he was in full flow, stroking two sixes and 11 fours in his 127-ball stay. Chohan was the only Canada bowler to end with any real credit finishing with 4 for 39 from his 10 overs.
Afghanistan, it seems, are irrepressible at the moment but Canada will take great heart from this performance going into the next game on February 18.
Sahil Dutta is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo