Career-best T20I performances from Najibullah Zadran and Mohammad Nabi ensured that Afghanistan stayed in the hunt for the main draw of the Asia Cup, beginning Wednesday. Najibullah muscled 60 not out off 35 balls to lead Afghanistan to 178, which they defended with ease, thanks to Nabi’s four-for.
Hong Kong’s openers blasted off in the chase, reeling off 50 by the sixth over. But Nabi soon struck with his third ball to break the thriving stand when he pinned Kinchit Shah lbw for 29. Anshuman Rath and Babar Hayat kept Hong Kong ticking before they collapsed in a heap; losing the last nine wickets for only 33 runs.
Nabi used his flight and variations in pace, having three batsmen holing out to big hits. He finished with figures of 4 for 17, a match-winning spell that included 12 dots. Nabi was complemented by the googlies and quick fizzers of 17-year old Rashid Khan who scalped two wickets. Fast bowler Dawlat Zadran put the seal on the win when he had Tanwir Ahmed lbw for a duck. Shapoor Zadran, brought back in place of spinner Amir Hamza, however, managed only one wicket. Each of Hong Kong’s batsmen barring the top three were left nursing single-digit scores.
The victory, though, was set up by Najibullah who stroked his maiden T20I fifty. His effort gave Afghanistan the impetus in the middle and at the death as they took 52 from the last four overs. Najibullah was particularly severe on seamer Aizaz Khan, plundering two sixes off the penultimate over; both sent sailing over cow corner.
Opener Mohammad Shahzad and captain Asghar Stanikzai had done the early running. Shahzad unleashed his familiar hoicks and swipes during his 14-ball 24 before falling in the fourth over. Stanikzai was brisk, if not as quick as Shahzad, scoring 49 off 35 balls, including four fours and three sixes.
Nabi and Gulbadin Naib were then undone by Aizaz in the 17th over, but Najibullah took charge before Nabi’s offbreaks derailed the chase.