Afghanistan’s cricketing journey has been one spent in the wilderness, with the side forced to play all its international matches away from home due to unrest in its homeland.
For a brief while, in 2019, the city of Lucknow acted as Afghanistan’s ‘home’, with the side taking on West Indies in an ODI series and a solitary Test here.
On Friday, Afghanistan celebrated its return to the City of Nawabs by outclassing the Netherlands by seven wickets in the ODI World Cup at the Ekana Stadium.
For the third match running, the Afghans chased down a target in clinical fashion as they moved to fifth in the points table to put themselves a result or two away from reaching the World Cup semifinal.
Afghan captain Hashmatullah Shahidi led from the front with his third fifty of the tournament. He put on a 74-run partnership with Rahmat Shah, who dominated the stand with a stroke-filled half-century.
Rahmat swept and reverse-swept the Dutch spinners and drove with panache against the pacers, lifting the Afghanistan chase, after it lost both its openers early on. Once the right-handed batter fell, Shahidi, along with Azmatullah Omarzai, marshalled Afghanistan to its fourth win of the tournament.
Shahidi, deservedly, hit the winning runs with a lofted shot to the deep mid-wicket fence, much to the joy of the 20,000+ crowd which came to welcome the Afghans back.
Afghanistan’s win though was virtually sealed long before, by the unrelenting performance it put up in the field in the first innings.
The Netherlands, which elected to bat, was shaken early when Afghan’s PowerPlay specialist spinner Mujeeb ur Rahman trapped opener Wesley Baressi in front during the first over.
But the Dutch recovered as they pushed on to end the opening PowerPlay at 66 for one, their best tally in the opening 10 overs this World Cup.
Opener Max O’Dowd was the driving force in this early surge, with the right-handed batter scoring some effortless boundaries, while Colin Ackermann offered the requisite support.
O’Dowd was particularly forceful against Fazalhaq Farooqi, who was guilty of offering the Dutch batter too much width while operating around the wicket.
But the Netherlands’ hopes of capitalising on the early momentum were quickly doused, thanks to some inspired Afghan fielding.
All-rounder Omarzai triggered the collapse by running out the free-flowing O’Dowd with a direct hit from fine leg. Ackermann too suffered the same fate, with crowd favourite Rashid Khan executing the throw this time.
The Netherlands lost further ground, when skipper Scott Edwards ran down the track against Mohammed Nabi, only for him to edge it to wicket-keeper Ikram Alikhil, who whipped off the bails.
Afghanistan’s ascendancy in the match grew, parallelly with the swelling of a crowd that cheered on the exploits of the Afghan side with vigour.
Nabi and the returning left-arm wrist spinner Noor Ahmad then tightened the screws with regular wickets.
Sybrand Engelbrecht kept the fight going for the Dutch side with a battling half-century. But he was soon run out – the fourth Dutch batter to fall in that manner – and the Netherlands quickly folded out for a below-par total, which would soon be surmounted by an efficient Afghan batting unit.
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