Inspired Hong Kong outfit claim a huge scalp as Afghanistan experience a third loss in a row to leave their hopes of glory hanging by a thread.
Offering further evidence that this tournament is wide open and the gaps in class between Associate nations are narrowing all the time, Hong Kong opened their account with a thoroughly merited victory from their second match.
For Afghanistan, however, pre-tournament darlings, boasting the most deadly limited-overs bowler in the world and coming into the competition in sparkling form, a third defeat on the bounce sees their dreams of a World Cup appearance in England in 2019 fading by the day.
The good news for a beleaguered outfit – and how Afghanistan need it after losing Mohammad Shahzad before the match, suspended for two games after accumulating four demerit points across a 24-month period – is that there is still a way to scrape through to the Super Six stage, kicking off on March 15.
Much will need to go their way though. Nepal will need to beat Hong Kong, and then both of Nepal and Hong Kong will need to lose all their remaining games, while Afghanistan will need to beat Nepal handsomely; such eventualities would result in all three teams being locked on a win apiece, and then it all comes down to net run rate.
That is for another day. This Hong Kong victory may have hinged on a classy knock from Anshy Rath and some supremely tight bowling from the off-break bowler Ehsan Khan, but this was a team effort. Electric in the field, Ehsan Nawaz's superb run out from third man of the dangerous Mohammad Nabi encapsulated their athleticism and commitment. They are a danger team in this tournament.
The left-handed Rath – Hong Kong-born, Harrow School-educated, Middlesex second XI player – is, at 20, already making a name for himself, averaging north of 50 in ODIs and 65 in first-class cricket, and here he dominated the HK innings, compiling a 90-ball 65 before falling lbw to Mujeeb Ur Rahman in the 42nd over.
Rath's knock, on a sluggish surface, was the standout innings of the match but he received good support throughout the HK innings, with useful contributions all the way down the card, after a rocky start had seen them lose three wickets for 43. Rashid Khan, for his part, was treated with respect but not deference, and he went wicketless across his 10 overs, with Rath in particular playing him with relative ease.
At halfway it felt like a formidable total, and Afghanistan's stuttering reply confirmed it. After a promising start, rattling along to 56/1 in the 16th, Ehsan Khan got to work, bowling Rahmat Shah and then removing Ihsanullah – both of whom had made decent starts – to change the whole complexion of the run-chase. Thereafter the result felt inevitable.
The end of this match was in keeping with much of Afghanistan's truncated, stop-start campaign so far. They were always behind the rate, and when a doughty fifth-wicket stand between Nabi and Najibullah Zadran was brought to an end to leave them tottering at 132/5, the last rites were about to be administered.
But not quite; 42 balls from the close, the rains came. Afghanistan were 169/7 and way off the DLS par-figure of 202. Such was the downpour's ferocity that it looked like the game would end there, but when the skies cleared and the covers came off, a revised equation of 59 from 18 balls was set.
Rashid Khan, the teenage stand-in captain, was duly out immediately after the resumption, and though Afghanistan were never in the hunt to win the game, they kept swinging in the knowledge that run rate could still be crucial in the final shakedown. A 30-run DLS defeat, in the gloom. It rather summed up their tournament so far.
Afghanistan lose their third successive match at #CWCQ! They're defeated by 30 runs (DLS method) after only reaching 195/9 in response to Hong Kong's 241/8!#AFGvHK scorecard ➡️ https://t.co/OocZl5iBqMpic.twitter.com/7cJsHSdpzR— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) March 8, 2018
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