Rashid rips through UAE to seal second I-Cup title for Afghanistan
The legspinner has completed a five-wicket haul in each of his four first-class matches so far since making his four-day debut against England Lions last December
Afghanistan 510 for 9 dec (Ihsanullah 124, Stanikzai 114, Rahmat 103, Raza 5-148) and 21 for 0 beat UAE 197 (Shaiman 85*, Zahir 3-30, Rashid 3-69) and (f/o) 331 (Suri 81, Mustafa 68, Rashid 5-83) by 10 wickets
A rejuvenated Rashid Khan routed the UAE middle and lower order, claiming 5 for 29 in his 12.3-over spell on the final day to propel Afghanistan to a 10-wicket win that secured the country's second Intercontinental Cup title. After taking Man-of-the-Match honors in Afghanistan's previous I-Cup win over Hong Kong, Rashid repeated the feat after taking match figures of 8 for 152 as his side claimed the full 20 points on offer to finish 12 points above the second-placed Ireland. Both countries are now set to enter the Test world with Ireland's first Test coming against Pakistan in Malahide in May 2018 while Afghanistan are targetting a possible date with Zimbabwe early next year.
Despite going wicketless in 21 overs on day three in the face of an obdurate 146-run stand by Rohan Mustafa and Chirag Suri, Rashid's appeals began to bear fruit on the final morning. With three men around the bat, Saqlain Haider prodded an inside edge off the pad to Javed Ahmadi who juggled momentarily before trapping the ball in between his legs at short leg to secure Rashid's first wicket 11 overs into the day.
Rameez Shahzad fought gamely to prop up the UAE middle order and stretch the game as much as possible, sweeping regularly for boundaries against Rashid and Zahir Khan. But Zahir finally managed to suck Rameez forward for an edge clipped to Mohammad Nabi at first slip. Still, UAE looked like they would make Afghanistan bat again and perhaps even fight for a draw with 17 runs needed and five wickets in hand heading into the last over before lunch.
But Rashid produced a sensational over, taking three wickets either side of the interval. Muhammad Usman inside edged a flat-footed poke onto his stumps for 28. Ahmed Raza survived loud appeals for lbw on his first ball at the crease, but groped forward again next ball to edge to Nabi at slip. Lunch was taken and first ball after resumption, Amjad Javed prodded down the wrong line and was trapped in front for Rashid's third wicket in four balls.
Afghanistan suddenly looked favorites to complete their fifth straight innings victory of the tournament but some lusty hoicks over the leg side by Adnan Mufti ensured Afghanistan faced a nominal target. Mufti eventually fended an edge to wicketkeeper Afsar Zazai to give Nabi his second wicket of the innings. Rashid needed just two balls to defeat No. 11 Amir Hayat with a googly for his fifth wicket of the innings. Remarkably, it meant Rashid has completed a five-wicket haul in each of his four first-class matches so far since making his four-day debut against England Lions last December.
With Afghanistan needing only 19, UAE put up little fight as the first delivery of the innings bowled by Hayat was a wide and not long after in the third over Ihsanullah was put down on 5 off Hayat at second slip. Ihsanullah eventually hit the winning boundary in the sixth over off Ahmed Raza with a swipe to midwicket.
While Afghanistan had stormed the pitch 11 months earlier in the UAE after defeating Ireland by 10 wickets in front of 15,000 fans in the final of the Desert T20 Challenge, their celebrations on this occasion were a bit more muted. But the 500 fans who turned out on this occasion were fully embraced to be part of the celebrations as captain Asghar Stanikzai passed the Intercontinental Cup silverware into the crowd. Having proven themselves against the best of the Associate world in multi-day cricket, a greater test awaits.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna