Afghanistan stormed into the final of the Desert T20 Challenge after beating Oman by eight wickets, their fifth consecutive win over the team in T20 internationals. Afghanistan chased down a target of 150 with nine balls to spare and now await the winner of the Scotland v Ireland semi-final, before the final match later today.
Oman fought bravely through the first innings, coming back to the ground to take on the tournament favourites less than 12 hours after their final Group B match against Scotland. Afghanistan gave Oman a few chances to stay afloat. However, by the start of the chase, Oman struggled to keep their heads above water as Afghanistan commenced a cruise toward the target riding on a 91-run opening stand between Nawroz Mangal and Mohammad Shahzad.
Shahzad reached 50 off 35 balls at the start of the 10th over, and added another 45 with Asghar Stanikzai, before falling for 80 with only 14 required for victory. Stanikzai and Samiullah Shenwari knocked off the remaining runs, and clinched the match after a bouncer down leg side was signaled a wide.
Poking the bear
Oman were scrapping their way through their innings, desperate to claim any runs on offer. Off the final ball of the 13th over, bowled by Amir Hamza, when Khurram Nawaz pushed toward point for a sharp run. The throw came to the non-striker's end and hit Nawaz in the legs before it caromed past mid-off. Nawaz didn't hesitate to come back for a second run on the overthrow and, when he arrived back at the striker's end, Shahzad didn't hesitate to give him an earful from behind the stumps.
Afghanistan hadn't been fully engaged until that point, with Dawlat Zadran in particular bowling poorly with the new ball. But after that extra run, Afghanistan flipped a switch. Rashid Khan beat an attempted sweep by Nawaz with a googly, to rattle the stumps in the 19th over, and then gave the batsman a send-off, pointing him off the field to the dugout.
Shahzad seemed especially offended at Nawaz's transgression. He used his bat in the second innings as if it were a principal's paddle for spanking naughty school kids. Shahzad's batting record in the knockout stages of Associate tournaments in the UAE is superb and he extended that trend today against Oman.
Left-arm fast bowler Bilal Khan, Oman's most incisive bowler in this tournament, was clubbed over mid-on for four in the opening over to set the tone for the rest of Shahzad's innings. Kaleemullah was brought on in the third over so that Bilal could switch ends and Shahzad went on to flick the tall right-arm quick over mid-off in his second over. The next ball was a disdainful flick over midwicket for six to leave Kaleemullah slack-jawed.
Shahzad almost never misses an opportunity to animatedly celebrate even the smallest milestones, but upon bringing up his half-century on this day, he didn't even raise his bat. When he was finally dismissed, though, he made sure to recognise the fans, gesturing his appreciation with a flick and wave to the western stand where most of them had congregated. They are hoping it's not the last time he raises his bat on finals day.