Afghanistan roared into the main draw of the World Twenty20 with an emphatic 59-run victory over Zimbabwe in a first round Group B match on Saturday.
Mohammad Shahzad (40) gave Afghanistan a flying start before Mohammad Nabi (52) and Samiullah Shenwari (43) added 98 runs off 64 balls to power them to 186-6, their highest total in this format.
The associate nation then returned to bowl out Zimbabwe for 127 to register a memorable victory over a full-member nation and join England, South Africa, West Indies and Sri Lanka in Group One of the Super 10 stage of the tournament.
“This was a very important match for us. People in Afghanistan are crazy about cricket. They love the game, so (winning it) was very important for us,” victorious captain Asghar Stanikzai said.
With a place in the main draw at stake, Stanikzai opted to bat and was vindicated as Shahzad set alight Nagpur’s VCA Stadium with his swashbuckling batting.
The portly 28-year-old hit Tendai Chatara for four successive boundaries after a quiet opening over, forcing the pacer off attack.
Donald Tiripano was pressed into service but there was no respite from Shahzad who hit him for three successive fours.
Shahzad greeted left-arm spinner Sean Williams by hitting his first delivery for a six but fell in the same over after a 23-ball blitz attempting a reverse sweep.
His dismissal triggered a mini-collapse as Afghanistan, cruising at 49 for no loss in the fifth over, slumped to 63-4 in the eighth.
Nabi then joined forces with Shenwari to first steady the innings before accelerating.
Beneficiary of a missed stumping opportunity, Nabi hit Wellington Masakadza for two sixes in the same over and brought up his maiden fifty in 30 balls before falling in the final over.
Zimbabwe’s erratic bowlers conceded 25 extras, including 17 wides, to make things difficult for themselves.
Chasing a daunting target, Zimbabwe lost their top half for 65 inside 12 overs. Tinashe Panyangara’s unbeaten 17 was the top score in the Zimbabwe innings which ended with two balls left.
Leg-spinner Rashid Khan was the pick of the Afghan bowlers, claiming three for 11 in his tidy four overs but Nabi, who also got a wicket with the ball, was adjudged man-of-the-match.
Later on Saturday, Scotland registered their first victory in an International Cricket Council (ICC) event when they beat Hong Kong by eight wickets via Duckworth-Lewis method in a rain-shortened contest.
The outcome had no real consequence on the tournament as both teams had already crashed out of contention for a place in the main draw.