Rashid Khan saved his best performance of the World Cup Qualifier so far for the UAE, as he bowled Afghanistan to a five-wicket win in Harare on Tuesday.
The victory means Afghanistan still have a chance of taking one of the two qualifying places on offer for the World Cup in England next year. However, they will require a favour from the UAE if they are going to do so.
The winner of the next match at Harare Sports Club, between West Indies and Scotland on Wednesday, will progress. The hosts Zimbabwe will also advance to play in England next year if they beat the UAE the following day.
If the national team do upset the form guide and beat the home side on Thursday, then the winners of Friday’s final Super Six fixture between Afghanistan and Ireland will have a chance of qualifying.
Rashid is the No 1 bowler in the ICC’s rankings for limited-overs cricket. Saddled with the extra responsibility of the captaincy for much of this Qualifier, though, his influence with the ball for Afghanistan has been relatively subdued.
With Asghar Stanikzai, the regular captain, returning for the first time following injury, Rashid was back to his best, as he took five against the UAE at Old Hararians.
“It feels good to take a five-wicket haul and contribute in the bowling department,” Rashid said. “It was a good day for me, but I don’t think there had been any extra pressure on me when I was captain to perform while bowling. If I am captain or not captain, I try my best to enjoy [playing].”
The national team were reliant on resistance from two roommates, Shaiman Anwar and Mohammed Naveed, for cobbling together 177 in 43 overs before being bowled out.
Shaiman made 64, before falling victim to Rashid, while Naveed hit two sixes and seven fours in a 20-ball cameo worth 45.
“Afghanistan made it really difficult and clearly there is a lot of mystery in their bowling attack,” Dougie Brown, the UAE coach, said. “We haven’t played against them often enough to be able to pick their variations, but all the bowlers made it really difficult – and I felt ours did, too.”
Emboldened by his effort with the bat, Naveed led a plucky fightback with the ball. He and his new-ball partner Qadeer Ahmed, who was playing his first competitive fixture since January, took two wickets apiece as UAE reduced the Afghans to 43-4.
When Ahmed Raza then dismissed Mohammed Nabi, Afghanistan’s leading run-scorer at the competition, the Afghans were struggling at 51-5 off 15.1 overs.
Gulbadin Naib and Najibullah Zadran then shared an unbeaten alliance worth 124 to win the game and keep alive Afghanistan’s qualification hopes.
“Anything can happen,” Rashid said. “Still none of the teams are qualified in the first two. Everyone is still in doubt. That is a good thing. We just need to win the last match and see what happens.
“In the match between UAE and Zimbabwe, anything can happen. We can only hope for the best.”
Brown is expecting his side to thrive when they play in front of the television cameras in such a high-stakes fixture on Thursday.
“The last game against Zimbabwe, we know it is going to be a tremendous atmosphere,” Brown said. “It is a huge game. There is a lot riding on it, World Cup qualification for them, and for other teams as well. We know we can have a major say in who does qualify.
“There will be 15,000 people in there shouting for Zimbabwe, but we know there will be millions of people around the world shouting for us. We will take that positivity with us and are really looking forward to what will be a fantastic day of cricket.”