Rashid Khan played a special knock. On his 20th birthday, he scored a game-changing half-century and added 95 runs for the eighth wicket with Gulbadin Naib.
Afghanistan are fast becoming the Asia Cup’s joie de vivre. When bigger teams – Pakistan and Bangladesh – have been complaining about back-to-back matches in extreme heat and long bus journeys between Abu Dhabi and Dubai (India excluded), the Afghans are playing with a smile. After rolling over Sri Lanka, they put Bangladesh under the pump.
Just a few days ago, during an informal chat at the ICC Academy, Phil Simmons refused to say anything on West Indies’ seemingly terminal decline. As a thorough professional, the former West Indies opener, now the Afghanistan coach, took pride in the steady rise of the minnows. By then, Afghanistan had sent the Islanders packing. On Thursday in Abu Dhabi, they showed greater resolve and gumption than Bangladesh.
Rashid Khan played a special knock. On his 20th birthday, he scored a game-changing half-century and added 95 runs for the eighth wicket with Gulbadin Naib. The latter played his part with an unbeaten 42, but Rashid’s 32-ball 57 not out was the tournament’s most impactful batting performance yet. Afghanistan had slumped to 160/7 in the 41st over before Rashid took the attack to the opposition. He then took two wickets and effected a run out as Afghanistan beat Bangladesh by 136 runs.
Rashid’s wasn’t a merry hell slog, but calculated aggression. He picked the gaps to perfection. He improvised beautifully. He had eight fours in his innings, but a short-arm pull off Rubel Hossain for a six stood out. The ball cramped him for room but superb timing sent it over the deep mid-wicket boundary. In the final over of the innings, Rashid laid into Mashrafe Mortaza, taking 19 runs including four fours. The sound system at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium played the ‘Happy Birthday’ song. Bye, bye teenage. Welcome to 20.
Bangladesh had a five-day rest after their first game on September 15. Afghanistan got only three days to recover after beating Sri Lanka. But ahead of the match Mortaza, the Bangladesh captain, complained about the tournament “getting away from the rules”, with the grouse about the lack of rest thrown in. He had sort of picked up where Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain, had left off the previous afternoon.
Rewind to Simmons, when he was asked about Rashid’s workload before Afghanistan’s first ever Test in Bangalore in June. The leggie had a gruelling IPL, but his coach praised the player’s workload management. “Rashid is so professional he knows how to deal with it,” Simmons had said. He also spoke about the “abundance of talent” that’s coming through in Afghanistan cricket. The Afghans are making rapid strides in white-ball cricket.