Afghanistan v Hong Kong, World Cup Qualifier, Bulawayo March 8, 2018

Afghanistan suffer massive dent to World Cup hopes

Hong Kong 241 for 8 (Rath 65, Mujeeb 3-26, Nabi 3-48) beat Afghanistan 195 for 9 (Dawlat 40, Ehsan 4-33) by 30 runs (DLS method)

Hong Kong scored their first ever ODI win over a Full Member when they beat Afghanistan by 30 runs on a rainy afternoon at the Bulawayo Athletic Club. The victory was built around Anshuman Rath's half-century and was sealed by an outstanding spell of offspin bowling from Ehsan Khan, backed up by some inspired fielding.

As a result, Afghanistan were left needing a miracle to qualify for the 2019 World Cup. They have lost three out of three matches in this tournament so far and will need several things going their way to stay in contention.

Afghanistan were trundling along steadily in pursuit of 242 when Ehsan was brought on from the clubhouse end in the 16th over. With loop and flight, he tempted Rahmat Shah into an expansive drive. With dip and turn, he spun the ball sharply in between bat and pad to disturb the stumps. With that, Afghanistan were 56 for 2, and Hong Kong had their opening. Before his first over was up, Ehsan had also dismissed the set Ihsanullah for 20, a gloved sweep landing in the hands of Rath, tumbling to his left at slip.

At 57 for 3, with Mohammad Nabi still to bat, Afghanistan might still have considered themselves in a favourable position. But Hong Kong's bowling attack never let the pressure drop, with Tanwir Azfal's medium pace particularly effective. Bowling a wicket-to-wicket line with Scott McKechnie up to the stumps, Afzal didn't give the batsmen much to work with. Having made the first incision with the wicket of Javed Ahmadi for 22, his figures in his first spell were 6-0-15-1.

The pressure built up by the bowlers brought desperate strokes against Ehsan at the other end. With the required rate closing in on six an over, Samiullah Shenwari bent low to sweep but missed the ball entirely to be bowled for 9, as Afghanistan slipped to 73 for 4.

Hong Kong gather around wicket-taker Ehsan Khan © ICC

Still, though, Afghanistan were not entirely out of the match. Mohammad Nabi shepherded the middle order, helping to keep a fidgety Najibullah Zadran in accumulation mode. They nudged and pushed their way through a 59-run stand.

With the required rate climbing and ominous rain clouds closing in from the north, Najibullah eventually decided to have a go at Nadeem Ahmed's left-arm spin. He couldn't get anything on his slog sweep, however, with the ball crashing into his pad and the umpire upholding a vociferous lbw shout. Two overs later, Sharafuddin Ashraf missed a huge slog across the line and was bowled for 1; Afghanistan 134 for 6.

Hong Kong's discipline soon brought results, Ehsan Nawaz sprinting around at short third man to cut off a dab, and firing a flat throw to McKechnie to find Nabi short of his ground and run out for 38.

Fifteen minutes later, rain, thunder and lightning arrived to force the players from the field. When they returned, Afghanistan's total was revised to 226, with three overs left to play. Dawlat threw the bat around, but they were never going to get close. For his career best figures of 4 for 33, Ehsan was named Man of the Match.

Earlier in the day, Rath provided the bedrock of Hong Kong's innings, helping them recover from an early wobble which saw them reduced to 43 for 3. He put together stands of 50 with captain Babar Hayat and 67 with McKechnie to keep Hong Kong ticking over, looking particularly effective when playing off the front foot through the covers.

Rath, who was Hong Kong's leading run-scorer during the World Cricket League Championship with 678 runs at 75.33, started in measured fashion against both pace and spin. His innings eventually gained momentum, and he came out on top during a fascinating duel with Afghanistan's quicks, cutting and pulling both Dawlat and Shapoor Zadran. With Tanwir Afzal smashing 22 from just 9 deliveries towards the end, Hong Kong reached a total that would prove more than enough.

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town