Dubai: The senior team made December 16 a memorable day for Afghanistan cricket after the youngsters upset Pakistan in the Under-19 Asia Cup earlier by taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match Twenty20 International series against the United Arab Emirates with a five-wicket victory in the second match at Dubai International Stadium on Friday.
It was a thriller that swung both ways till Najibullah Zadran, whose unbeaten half-century steered the chase, sealed victory for Afghanistan with a four off Rohan Mustafa, the off-spinner, with two balls remaining in the game.
UAE posted 179 for 4 after opting to bat, with Shaiman Anwar scoring a 50-ball 60 and Rameez Shahzad upping the ante towards the end. In its chase, Afghanistan lacked a decisive innings for the longest part, with its batsmen guilty of failing to convert their starts. But Najibullah took charge late in the script and scored a ballistic unbeaten 24-ball 55 to help the side end on 183 for 5.
Mohammad Shahzad gave Afghanistan a typically boisterous start, hammering a 12-ball 31 in a 44-run opening partnership with Hazratullah. However, the enterprise proved costly, an attempt at a cut ending with Amjad Javed cleaning him up.
The dismissal dried up the runs, and with both Hazratullah (18) and Usman Ghani (18) failing to convert starts, Afghanistan was reduced to 85 for 3. Asghar Stanikzai then scored a 20-ball 29 to add some impetus to the innings before Javed cleaned him up as well. With Samiullah Shenwari run out for an eight-ball 12, Afghanistan was further reduced to 116 for 5.
At this stage, Afghanistan still needed 64 runs from six overs, and the momentum was with the UAE. However, Najibullah was in the middle, and he turned the tables with some big hits, targeting Mohammad Shahzad, the medium pacer, and taking him for 18 and 19 runs in consecutive overs. That changed the course of the match and the pendulum swung one final time in Afghanistan’s favour.
Earlier, UAE recovered from the early loss of Shahzad, with Mustafa and Anwar putting on a 74-run stand for the second wicket. Their association lasted 7.5 overs, the runs coming at a rate of 9.44.
However, Rashid Khan, the young leg-spinner, broke the stand, trapping Mustafa in front for a 31-ball 43. Muhammad Usman didn’t last long thereafter, scoring a 14-ball 15, but with the arrival of Rameez Shahzad, Anwar had support again.
The two hammered 67 runs in 5.2 overs, the runs coming at 12.46. Anwar scored his maiden T20I half-century in the process, before being dismissed off the final ball of the innings. Rameez remained unbeaten on a 19-ball 47, a knock comprising five fours and three sixes. But despite their big efforts, Afghanistan claimed the series.
United Arab Emirates - 179 for 4 (Anwar 60, Rameez Shahzad 47)
Afghanistan - 183 for 5 (Najibullah 55*, Shahzad 31, Javed 3-40)
Result - Afghanistan won by five wickets