Dehradun, For a change, Rashid Khan didn’t pick up a bag of wickets, but he still did the match-winning turn for Afghanistan in the third and final Twenty20 International against Bangladesh to give his team a 3-0 sweep.
After 3/13 and 4/12 – that’s an incredible seven wickets at an economy rate of 3.57 – in the first two games, Khan returned 1/24 here on Thursday. Pedestrian by his standards. But only seven of the runs came off his last over, the last of the Bangladesh reply to Afghanistan’s 145/6, when he was defending eight.
Off the first ball of the over, Khan got the big wicket, that of Mushfiqur Rahim, who was named the Player of the Match for his 37-ball 46. After that, it was 1-2-1-1 and, off the final ball, Mahmudullah was run out going for the third run, which would have tied the game.
“I am always trying my best to believe in my skills. I had one plan: Whatever happens, bowl in good-length area. Whether leg-spin or googly, I just enjoy,” said Khan of his last over. “The ball was gripping on a good length and that was my plan. Bowling this area got me success.”
“We knew it was going to be difficult in this track,” said Rahim after the game.
“Credit goes to Afghanistan and they deserve the win. Hopefully, we will learn from this. Although we (had already) lost the series, we were playing for pride. I thought 145-plus was par, but with Mujeeb (Ur Rahman) and Rashid it was tough. We lost early wickets and Shakib (Al Hasan), we needed more partnerships and boundaries.
The wicket, however, was slow. We just wanted to take it to the last over. Rashid is difficult to play. Last ball can go either way.”
Shakib, the Bangladesh captain and most experienced T20 player, had a quiet tournament, scoring 28 runs and picking up two wickets, one of the reasons Bangladesh fell well short.
It was always going to come down to a Khan v Rahim scrap. Rahim had scored just 20 and 22 in the first two games, but anyone who watched the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka earlier this year will recall his twin 72 not outs.
On the day, he almost took Bangladesh to a consolation win before hitting Khan to Najibullah Zadran at deep square-leg. “We played better today than last two games. Overall, we have to come up with better plans. I thought we restricted them to reasonable total,” he said, echoing Rahim’s thoughts.
“We were so close, but the middle overs cost us. I thought Mushfiq and Mahmudullah gave us a chance but they could not finish it. These conditions suited Afghanistan and they had quality spinners.”
This wasn’t the first time Bangladesh have fallen short after running the opposition close in a T20I – the most memorable, or not from their point of view, was the ICC World T20 2016 game against India, when they lost by one run after having the match in their grasp.
“I think it is a mental block that we haven’t been able to overcome till now. It would have been good if we could have won the match but going so close and yet falling short is painful,” said Shakib.
“Overall our performance in the series was not up to the mark. We were found wanting in all the three aspects of the game. In all the three games we did not bat to our potential.
We also could have bowled better in the first two matches. The body language and fielding need improvement as it was missing on occasions.”
The ‘quality spinners’ mentioned by Shakib, led by Khan, will now get ready for their maiden Test match, against India in Bangalore starting June 14.
On the slow pitches in Dehradun, Khan, Mujeeb and Mohammad Nabi combined for 14 wickets in the three games and while Khan’s economy rate was 4.45, both Nabi and Mujeeb conceded runs at five per over.
How effective they are in a brand-new format, against the top-ranked Test team in the world, remains to be seen, but the series result against Bangladesh has given Asghar Stanikzai, their captain, a lot of confidence.
“Great preparation for the Test match against India – the morale is high,” he said. “Last couple of years we have performed well. We want to achieve it for Afghanistan. You see the batsmen, bowlers are all in good form.”
In Bangalore, Khan might well be the frontman for Afghanistan again, and he is looking forward to the big occasion: “Full credit to my fitness – if you’re fit, you can deliver in any department; it doesn’t matter whether I’m playing in league cricket or the national team, I just want to enjoy.”
And fans in Dehradun, who came out in good numbers to support ‘their’ team, can look forward to more from Khan, too, as he declared, “Thanks to the crowd for the support and love you’ve given us. We will come again and again to Dehradun. We will give you the best performances.”