HANGZHOU (AFP): Afghanistan skipper Gulbadin Naib hailed his “superstar” side Wednesday after they beat defending champions Sri Lanka by eight runs to book an Asian Games semi-final against Pakistan.
After being sent in to bat, the Afghans were dismissed for just 116 in the 19th over on a Hangzhou pitch offering pace, sharp turn and fierce bounce.
Seamer Nuwan Thushara bagged 4-17 with Noor Ali Zadran’s 51 the only resistance.
Sri Lanka’s target looked gettable, but they blew the run chase with experienced quick Naib’s 3-28 and young leg-spinner Qais Ahmad’s 3-16 doing the damage as they were bundled out for 108.
“Every guy in the team is like a superstar in Afghanistan. A lot of our players are playing franchise league cricket (around the world) so they have a lot of experience now,” said Naib.
“We didn’t put a good total on the board, but the guys on the field out there were brilliant and have really shown their class.
“We Afghans can do anything better when we do the hard work,” he added.
Twenty20 cricket has been played at the Asian Games twice before, at Guangzhou 2010 and Incheon 2014, with Afghanistan runners-up both times, to Bangladesh and then Sri Lanka.
They brought a host of top-flight players to China, including hard-hitting wicketkeeper-batter Mohammad Shahzad and all-rounder Naib.
But they met their match in a young Sri Lanka attack.
Thushara, who made his debut against Australia in Sydney last year, struck with his first ball, bowling opener Sediqullah Atal for one.
Shahzad (20) and Zadran steadied the ship and put on 54 for the next wicket.
But when Shahidullah (23) became the third man down, the flood gates opened with eight wickets falling for 24 and none of the last seven batters getting out of single figures.
The uneven pitch also proved a problem for Sri Lanka, with boundaries hard to come by and no-one able to get going.
Teenage opener Shevon Daniel is tipped as a rising star, but on his T20 debut he only managed nine, with Naib causing problems for the top order.
Ahmad’s leg-spin then helped reduce Sri Lanka to 78-7 and when captain Sahan Arachchige was run out for 22, they were flailing on 84-8 and there was no way back.
“We bowled well and we fielded well but unfortunately in the batting time we didn’t do well, so that’s why I think we lost,” said Arachchige.
“The pitch was turning too much and there was a little bit of hang in the ball, so it’s very difficult to bat.”
Bangladesh take on Malaysia in the other quarter-final on Wednesday with the winner meeting India for a place in the final.