Those who thought the series between Bangladesh and Afghanistan was going to be another one-sided contest were in for a surprise on Sunday (September 25). The series opener, the first of three One-Day Internationals (ODI), played out at Dhaka's Shere Bangla Stadium, had all the elements of a classic thriller.
And just when it seemed Afghanistan were set to prove the assumptions wrong and stage an upset, the Bangladesh bowlers scripted a dramatic comeback to seal a narrow seven-run win for the home team.
In what turned out to be a heartstopper, Afghanistan were ahead, or so it seemed, right since Mohammad Nabi got rid of Mamadullah in the 41st over of the Bangladesh innings, but have only themselves to blame for collapse that robbed them of a deserving win in the end.
Set to chase 266 on a sluggish pitch, Afghanistan got off to a breezy start before the senior Bangladeshi pros – Mashrafe Mortaza and Shakib Al Hasan – got rid of both their openers in a space of four deliveries. The hosts had made early inroads, but that brought in Hashmatullah Shahidi who combined with No. 3 batsman Rahmat Shah for a 144-run third-wicket stand that turned the game on its head.
The duo went on to notch up their respective half-centuries, and in the process, reconstructed the Afghan chase brick by brick, taking minimal risks. Rahmat brought up the milestone, his first in ODIs, with a wild swing off Rubel Hossain, that found home in the deep-midwicket stands. A couple of overs later, Shahidi too got to his maiden fifty, although in a much subdued fashion. The record partnership had put the visitors on the brink of a an improbable win.
But the pendulum swung again in the 41st over, this time in Bangladesh's favour, however. Shakib's 208th wicket in the 50-over format had opened doors for a comeback. Stumped off a slower one from Bangladesh's new leading wicket-taker, Rahmat was on his way back after a valiant 71 off 93 deliveries. From the other end, in the 44th over, Taijul Ismal sent Shahidi packing when Soumya Sarkar pulled off a screamer at deep midwicket. Afghanistan's scoreboard then read 210 for 4.
The chase of 266 still looked manageable with 56 to get off 39 deliveries. In an anti-climatic finish though, none of the of the other partnerships, six of them in total, lasted more than 20 runs each.
After taking out Najibullah Zadran cheaply himself, skipper Mortaza brought Taskin Ahmed back on and he did not disappoint. With the equation down to 27 off 18, the pacer gave away six but sent back Mohammad Nabi and Asghar Stanikzai off alternate deliveries, thereby ending Afghanistan's slim hopes of a win that seemed like the only result probable about ten overs ago. Hossain gave away eight in the next over reducing the equation to 13 off the final six. Taskin, however, added two more to his tally as Afghanistan collapsed to 258 all out.
Earlier in the day, after electing to bat, the home team too pressed the self-destruct button after half-centuries from opener Tamim Iqbal and Mahmudullah had given them a platform for a total in the vicinity of 300.
Dawlat Zadran accounted for four of the Bangladeshi wickets but also leaked away the highest runs – 73 – in his 10-over quota. First of his four scalps was opener Sarkar who lasted three deliveries but failed to open his account. Iqbal and Imrul Kayes put them back on the track with a 83-run second-wicket partnership but Nabi broke through to get rid of the No. 3 batsman.
Mahmudullah and Iqbal continued to pile on runs and misery for Afghanistan. The duo combined for a 79-run stand for the fourth-wicket partnership before Mirwais Ashraf sent the latter back in the hut on 80. Nabi removed Mahmudullah soon after, putting an end to his to 74-ball knock worth 62.
Shakib held one end together during his 40-ball stay for 48 runs, but fell short of partners as Zardan and Rashid Khan ran through the lower order to restrict them to 265. The collapse saw hosts losing their last seven wickets for a meagre addition of 62 runs to their total, at least 30 shy of what seemed a likely target given the platform they had been served by the top order.
Nevertheless, the bowlers led a timely recovery to salvage pride.
Brief scores: Bangladesh 265 in 50 overs (Tamim Iqbal 80, Mahmudullah 64, Shakib Al Hasan 48; Dawlat Zardan 4-73) beat Afghanistan 258 in 50 overs (by Hashmatullah Shahidi 72, Rahmat Shah 71; Taskin Ahmed 4-59) by 7 runs.