Afghanistan storm into maiden World Cup semi-finals; Australia knocked out

Bangladesh

Afghanistan 115 for 5 (Gurbaz 43, Rishad 3-26) beat Bangladesh 105 (Litton 54*, Rashid 4-23, Naveen 4-26) by eight runs via DLS method

Jonathan Trott first kicked a bag in the dressing room. He then signaled to Afghanistan to slow the game down when rain was around. Rashid Khan had his hands on his head at various moments in the chase. Mohammad Nabi had a constant smile on his face. Dwayne Bravo wasn’t able to watch it.

But the one moment that encapsulated the emotionally-charged night in Kingstown was Naveen-ul-Haq taking off after taking the final Bangladesh wicket. That sealed Afghanistan’s maiden spot in the semi-final of any men’s senior World Cup.

In a match that had a start-stop nature owing to multiple rain interventions, Afghanistan – led by four-fors from Naveen and Rashid – edged out Bangladesh by a mere eight runs, and in the process, also knocked Australia out of the T20 World Cup 2024.

Both teams, along with Australia, were in contention for one semi-final spot from Group 1 of Super Eight, and the rain only added to the drama. For the best part of the last hour, a cat-and-mouse game ensued. There were moments when Bangladesh edged Afghanistan out on the DLS par score, only for the latter to come back to snatch back the advantage by picking up wickets.

Litton Das, with a best of 36 before Monday in the tournament, stayed through it all, but couldn’t take Bangladesh over the line. Rashid and Co. danced their hearts out after knocking two teams with a single blow, and the celebrations are only likely to go on for longer.

The drama after the second rain interval

Bangladesh had to chase their original target of 116 down in 12.1 overs to pip both Australia and Afghanistan to the semi-final. Their chase was delayed by half an hour, thanks to a 20-minute downpour. A shorter game, therefore, was disadvantageous to Bangladesh.

After the second rain break, though, Bangladesh sent out mixed signals. Litton attacked Naveen but Soumya Sarkar fell in a bid to do so against Rashid. Towhid Hridoy’s risks against Mohammad Nabi, which included a dropped catch, came off but he, too, holed out off Rashid. But with Litton hitting Rashid for successive fours – first over mid-off and then just past slip – Bangladesh looked on track to hunt the target down to qualify.

But soon, Mahmudullah’s indecisiveness and Rishad Hossain’s adventurousness meant they slipped to 80 for 7 after 11 overs. Which is when the rainy clouds returned to continuously hover around the stadium, and constantly brought the DLS par scores into picture for the rest of the night.

In the face of increasing pressure, Litton seemingly kept his calm. He has had a forgettable 2024 in T20Is, striking at under 100 and his place in the Bangladesh set-up under scanner. But he started off with intent and kept up their hopes of signing off from the T20 World Cup with a win. But it was not meant to be.

Naveen’s new-ball burst bursts Bangladesh

Fazalhaq Farooqi, Afghanistan’s weapon with the new ball, trapped Tanzid Hasan lbw with his third ball, making it his 16th wicket, which drew him equal with Wanindu Hasaranga for most wickets in a men’s T20 World Cup.

Naveen’s first over was expensive, with Litton hitting him for a four and a six. Then Najmul Hossain Shanto heaved one over midwicket in his second over. But with a deep midwicket in place, Naveen once again bowled a length ball angling into Shanto, who picked out the fielder there. Naveen then got the next ball to straighten just enough to catch Shakib Al Hasan’s leading edge for a return catch and Bangladesh were 23 for 3.

Afghanistan steady but slow

One of the methods that has worked for Afghanistan, and their openers, in this World Cup is a non-enterprising start. Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran stayed true to form, taking very few chances inside the powerplay as well as in the first ten overs. They finished the powerplay on 27 for 0 and at the ten-over mark were 58 for 0.

It was Gurbaz and Ibrahim’s fourth fifty partnership, the most by any pair in a T20 World Cup. In the first ten overs, there were only 15 attempts of attacking shots, that too on a surface that was slowing down and was going to see dew later on.

Rishad leads Bangladesh squeeze

When Rishad was brought on in the ninth over, the wind was blowing diagonally from right to left, in the direction of his natural spin. He immediately beat Ibrahim’s outside edge, and in his second over used the bounce on offer to get the same batter’s leading edge caught at long-off.

Gurbaz then took the attack to Rishad in his third over. He first slapped one over cover point to end a phase of 38 legal balls without a four, and then used the sweep for another four through backward-square-leg region. However, Rishad had the last laugh when he had Gurbaz holing out to deep cover in his last over. A couple of balls later, he also had Gulbadin Naib miscue a slice towards cover point. Naib could have gotten away if not for Sarkar, who sprinted in from the deep and dived forward almost near the 30-metre circle. And just like that, Afghanistan had ceded early advantage to slip from 59 for 0 to 89 for 4.

The Rashid intervention

Rashid walked in at 93 for 5 with just 14 balls left. He faced ten of those, attempted attacking shots on nine of those, and finished on 19 not out. He struck three sixes, two of those in the last over bowled by Tanzim Hasan Sakib. He used good use of the willow generally, except on one occasion when he flung it towards his partner, Karim Janat. It was the last over of the innings and Rashid wanted a second run to retain strike but Janat refused it. Still, he helped Afghanistan score 22 in the last 14 balls that helped them to a total they could fight with, just as the heavens in Kingstown opened up.

Afghanistan faced 66 dot balls in their innings, which was the third-most by a team with five or fewer wickets lost in men’s T20I where ball-by-ball records are available with ESPNcricinfo. But it did not come back to haunt Afghanistan, who kept a clean slate of successfully defending totals in St Vincent.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Sudarshanan7

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