Afghanistan skipper Asghar Stanikzai hailed his underdog side after their historic six-run victory over the powerful West Indies at the World Twenty20 match in Nagpur on Sunday.
Afghanistan had failed to qualify for the semi-finals heading into Sunday’s match, but were determined to take home a consolation victory against the West Indies, who had already made the final four.
Stanikzai paid credit to his never-say-die charges especially batsman Najibullah Zadran, named man-of-the-match, after Afghanistan notched up their first ever Super 10 victory at a World T20.
Stanikzai said his side, who had lost three straight group stage matches, had learnt “so much” at the T20 and would now head home and “work on our weaknesses”.
“We knew the conditions but the bowlers and fielders played very well. We know about our team’s strengths, we have experienced so much at this WT20.”
After being sent into bat, Stanikzai’s side posted a respectable 123/7, with Najibullah smashing an unbeaten 48 against the 2012 World T20 champions.
The West Indies, who had a perfect record heading into the match with three straight wins, warned that they were not going to let up against Afghanistan.
But their run chase got off to a shaky start, with opener Evin Lewis dismissed for a duck, and some excellent Afghanistan spin bowling led by 17-year-old Rashid Khan (2-26) meant the wickets kept falling.
With the West Indies needing 10 runs from the final over, Najibullah sprinted several metres along the boundary to take a spectacular, tumbling catch and claim Carlos Braithwaite for 13, just when he looked like bringing the West Indies home, as he had done against South Africa on Friday.
Samuel Badree and an injured Andre Fletcher could only manage to push the total to 117 in the three remaining deliveries.
Despite the loss, the West Indies still finished top of Group One, and will play either Australia or India, who clash later Sunday in Group Two, in the semi-finals.
Captain Darren Sammy said the loss would not derail his side’s campaign for the title, describing the loss as a “banana skid” on the road to the finals.
“Obviously we are disappointed but we are not going to let this dampen our spirits, we played well, we just need to find a way to chase down those small totals,” he said.
“We have two more steps to take, and we just had a slight banana skid in the race, and we just have to regroup and come back again.”
After being sent in to bat, Najibullah top scored for Afghanistan, striking four fours and one six in his 40-ball knock to bring cheers from the small but vocal crowd.
Afghanistan had lost all of their previous Super 10 matches, but they have won new admirers with their aggressive and carefree brand of cricket that has caused some anxious moments for their opponents.
Opener Mohammad Shahzad made a confident 24, but was caught off leg-spinner Badree, trying to heave over the infield, just as he was looking exciting.
Asghar Stanikzai also made a handy 16. The skipper shuffled down the wicket to smash a six over long on, but was caught the next ball by Dwayne Bravo off Badree attempting the same shot.
As the wickets started to tumble thanks to some strong fielding, 23-year-old Najibullah held his nerve, guiding Afghanistan past the 120 mark and to what proved a winning total.