Nepal ended their 10-year long losing streak to Afghanistan in grand style when they beat the Associate arch rivals by nine runs in the ICC World Twenty20 in Chittagong on Thursday.
It was the sweetest revenge for Nepal over the Associate heavyweights who have been boasting their status as an one-day team and hold the experience of playing against the likes of Test heavyweights in 2010 and 2012 World Twenty20.
Subash Khakurel’s half century and Jitendra Mukhiya’s sensational bowling set up Nepal’s first victory over Afghanistan after their 2004 ACC Trophy third place playoff final.
Though Nepal narrowly missed out to qualify for the Super 10 after being pipped by Bangladesh on net run rate, the team would still welcome the victory against Afghanistan – a mission they had set off for heading into Bangladesh. Hosts Bangladesh were later stunned by Hong Kong in their final group stage match but had enough runs to hold an edge over Nepal on run rate.
After a sluggish start, opener Subash made a half century and shared 76 runs for the fourth wicket with Sharad Vesawkar lifting Nepal to a decent 141-5. It was Nepal’s highest score against Afghanistan in the shorter version of the game. Man-of-the-match Jitendra then ripped through Afghan top order and bowled superbly in the death overs as Afghans managed 132-8.
Skipper Paras Khadka introduced Basanta Regmi in the first over of Nepal’s defense but the left arm spinner was hit for nine runs. Som Pal Kami provided the breakthrough bowling through the gates of Karim Sadiq in the second over. Jitendra then struck twice in two balls removing dangerous opener Mohammed Shahzad (six) and Najibullah Zadran reducing the Afghans to 20-3 in 4.4 overs.
Shafiqullah and former skipper Nowroz Mangal took Afghanistan close to 50-run mark before left arm orthodox bowler Shakti Gauchan struck twice giving Nepal an edge in the match. Mangal was first to go following a well-judged catch taken by Paras and skipper Mohammad Nabi (one) was next to go trapped leg before in the final ball of the ninth over.
Shafiqullah continued to play shots but after Paras brought back expensive Basanta, the set batsman played a huge shot handing a catch to Sagar Pun. Shafiqullah made 36 off 32 with three boundaries and a six. Asghar Stanikzai and new man Samiullah Shenwari, who recently shared 164-run partnership in Afghanistan’s stunning victory over Bangladesh in the Asia Cup, brought their team back in the match with 49 needed from the last four overs.
Paras then brought Jitendra back in the attack and the bowler conceded just seven runs from the 17th. Som Pal bled 12 runs in the 18th but Jitendra displayed an excellent death over bowling targetting the block holes and getting rid of Shenwari in the 19th over conceding just six runs leaving Afghanistan 24 to win from the last six balls.
Stankizai gave Nepal a real scare when he smashed 14 runs off the first four balls with three boundaries but Som Pal held his nerve and sealed the victory dismissing the set batsman in the penultimate ball. Stanikzai made 49 off 36 with four boundaries and a six. The final ball was a dot.
Som Pal finished with 2-32 and Jitendra returned with career best figures of 3-18. Sagar Pun’s 0-10 from three overs was crucial in the middle overs.
Earlier, Afghanistan seamers tightened the screw when conceding just 19 runs in the first four overs along with the wicket of Sagar Pun (eight). Gyanendra Malla stepped in and batted with a positive intent hitting Shenwari for three fours and a six in a single over before losing his wicket trying to reverse sweep Nabi in eighth.
Paras departed early for just one run but Subash and Sharad resurrected the Nepali innings. The two batsmen spent some time at the crease before cutting lose from the 15th over with Subash hitting Shenwari for a six and four. Sharad then clobbered Nabi for three boundaries in the 16th that fetched Nepal 16 runs. Nepal collected another 12 runs in the 17th over after Subash brought up his half century with a boundary of Dawlat Zadran.
Nepal collected 44 runs in from 15th, 16th and 17th over that later changed the game. Both Subash and Sharad lost their wickets trying to up the ante in the 19th over falling prey to Shapoor Zadran.
Subash made his highest Twenty20 score making 56 from 53 with six fours and a six, while Sharad made 37 off 32 with five fours. Nepal managed only six runs from the last over bowled by Nabi.