|Mohammad Nabi and Asghar Stanikzai race towards the ACC Trophy Final ahead of their delighted fans|
Afghanistan reached their first ever ACC Trophy Final, beating defending champions Hong Kong by five wickets at the KOC Unity Ground. Afghanistan’s best previous finish in an ACC Trophy. Nepal, another team that has not yet won the ACC Trophy, join them in the Final, after beating Malaysia by 7 runs.
This semi-final was a replay of the one in the 2008 ACC Trophy Elite where Hong Kong won by 25 runs.
Afghanistan’s game and cricket-brain are far more developed than what it was in 2008, whereas on the evidence of today Hong Kong's has remained relatively the same.
Fast bowler Mirwais Ashraf (2-18), playing his first game this tournament, struck early: Nasir Hameed getting a thin edge to the 'keeper Mohammad Shahzad. Ashraf was impressing at the start conceding two runs in his first two overs with one wicket. Left-arm paceman Shahpour Zadran, though, was having a hard time, getting hit for four boundaries in his two overs.
|Hong Kong's Hussain Butt|
Hong Kong’s Roy Lamsam (26 off 44) and Hussain Butt (63 of 113) were severe on anything short, particularly from Shahpour who took five overs to settle into any sort of line and length. Butt was patient, waiting for the right ball to strike every time, a 6 over midwicket off the last ball of the 10th over his answer to being tied down by Mirwais. Butt and Lamsam put on 44 for the second wicket.
|Hong Kong's Waqas Barkat catches Mohammad Shahzad|
Hong Kong were apparently intent on keeping wickets in hand prior to a late overs charge. Passing 50 after 92 balls, Butt, playing well within himself, looked set for a very big score until one miscalculation against off-spinner Mohammad Nabi and he was well pouched by Mirwais in the deep. His partnership with Ilyas Gul had been worth 77 off 126 deliveries and took Hong Kong to 126 in the 36th over and Butt fell at the start of the 40th over, the score on 152. Hong Kong's innings couldn't quite achieve any momentum, wickets falling at regular intervals and they were all out for 205 at the start of the 49th over.
The wickets at KOC are easier in the afternoon, the ball coming on to the bat better, and even though Hong Kong's spinners were expected to be a potent threat, and 205 a challenginbg target, captain Najeeb Amar himself opening the bowling with his slow left-arm spin, Afghanistan got off to a flier.
After 5 overs, Afghanistan's openers Noor Ali Noori and Karim Sadiq had plundered eight boundaries. Karim fell soon after but Mohammad Shahzad (35 off 26) played some awesome strokes, one over from Irfan Ahmed going for 19, to balls whose only crime was that they were in within reach of the stocky little batsman, came in. Nadeem Ahmed (2-29) at the other end had Noori caught at slip off one that turned and bounced and Moner Ahmed then trapped skipper Nowroz Mangal for 1 making it 70 for 3.
The combination of Nadeem and Moner seemed to be working for Hong Kong. In a day of good catches, Waqas Barkat came racing in from deep extra to pluck the ball inches off the ground to get rid of Shahzad, hitting inside out.
|Nabi sends Afghanistan into ecstasy|
After 25 overs Afghanistan were 126 for 4 and cruising, Raees Ahmadzai (38 off 75) and young tyro Asghar Stanikzai (55* off 93), the most accomplished batsman in the team, scoring at will. Raees fell to one last burst by Irfan which set the stage for Mohammad Nabi, having flown in at midnight to finish things off. Nabi struck two consecutive sixes to finish things off.
Afghanistan v Nepal for the ACC Trophy Elite Final is likely to be the best ever. It'll certainly be the best supported, both teams with a large local following.
Semi-Final 2: Hong Kong v Afghanistan at Unity
AFGHANISTAN WIN BY FIVE WICKETS
Hong Kong won the toss and chose to bat
Hong Kong: 205 all out off 48.1 overs (H.Butt 63; M.Nabi 3-30, H.Hassan 3-53)
Afghanistan: 210 for 5 off 44.4 overs (M.Shahzad 35, A.Stanikzai 55*, R.Ahmadzai 38, M.Nabi 35*)
Man of the Match: Mohammad Nabi (Afghanistan)
All Pictures by Salman Hussain
Filed April 8th, 2010