Couldn't control our nerves - Rashid Khan

Afghanistan's stand-in captain said the side's inability to handle pressure cost them against Hong Kong and put their progress to the Super Six in doubt

Rashid Khan cut a downcast figure after Afghanistan's surprise defeat to Hong Kong at the Bulawayo Athletic Club. As the number one limited-overs bowler in the world, it seemed Rashid could do no wrong ahead of this tournament. But Afghanistan have now lost three matches on the trot, and their route to the Super Six will now need a huge dollop of luck.
Chasing 242, Afghanistan appeared to start steadily, but fell away in the middle overs as wickets fell, pressure mounted, and looming clouds approached the ground. "When the pressure was on, we couldn't control our nerves, and that caused us to lose the match," Rashid said.
"You can't expect such a performance from Afghanistan, the way we have played in the last two years. The guys played some irresponsible cricket, which wasn't expected from them. But it happens sometimes in cricket. Sometimes it doesn't go your way. Sometimes a match doesn't go your way. Sometimes a tournament doesn't go your way."
Even after an early wobble, when offspinner Ehsan Khan picked up three wickets in an unbroken spell to help reduce Afghanistan to 73 for 4, it still appeared Rashid's men had the muscle for a chase, with Mohammad Nabi and Najibullah Zadran at the crease. When a frustrated Najibullah played one shot too many, and Nabi was run out by some sharp fielding, the match turned decisively.
"I think we were in the game until Nabi and Najibullah got out," Rashid said. "But after losing Nabi, the rain came, and the match started to get away from us. Losing Nabi was crucial."
The weather, too, didn't help Afghanistan. With rain and lightning around the ground, Duckworth-Lewis permutations will have entered the minds of the batsmen even before the rain break, and the change in overhead conditions also made batting more tricky.
"The wicket was good for batting in the morning, but it got difficult later on," Rashid explained. "We weren't expecting the clouds [in the afternoon]. It was bad luck for us. It suddenly came in, and totally changed the game. But we didn't bat well."
To make matters worse, Afghanistan were missing two frontline batsmen for this important encounter. Captain Asghar Stanikzai had still not returned to the team after his operation for appendicitis, while Mohammad Shahzad was sitting out a two-match suspension after he had picked up demerit points for his angry reaction to his dismissal against Zimbabwe.
"Before the tournament, we lost the skipper," Rashid said. "And now we lost an aggressive batsman in Shahzad. Things just weren't going our way. It was a big loss for us, Shahzad, because you know how good he is."
It is still theoretically possible for Afghanistan to make the Super Six, provided they beat Nepal by a huge margin, and Zimbabwe and Nepal then beat Hong Kong.
"It's really touch and go," Rashid said. "If we can gain something in the Nepal game, and then something happens between Hong Kong and Nepal … anything can happen. But the way we played in the last three games, it's not what you expect from Afghanistan. But we'll come back positive."

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town