Afghanistan bow out of the World Cup but Ikram and Mujeeb give them hope for the future

Afghanistan's Ikram Alikhil in action
Afghanistan's Ikram Alikhil in action
©Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith
 

Two 18-year-old Afghanistan cricketers gave their exuberant fans a glimpse of a potentially golden future during a spirited if ultimately unsuccessful assault on two-time champions West Indies.

  • Ikram Ali Khil top scored for Afghanistan with 86 runs from 93 balls
  • Afghanistan were beaten in their final match of this World Cup by West Indies by 23 run
  • Full Match Highlights

 

On a balmy Headingley day, Ikram Ali Khil, called in to the team as a replacement for injured wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad and whose previous highest score in a one-day international was just 24, stroked 86 from 93 balls with eight boundaries.

 He helped Rahmat Shah add 133 for the second wicket and what had seemed an unattainable victory target of 312 during a competition looked at least possible during their partnership.

 They eventually fell short but their final score of 288 all out was their highest in a World Cup, exceeding the 247/8 against England.

 After arriving in England for the warm-up match, Ikram was thrown immediately into the deep end, batting in six different positions in nine matches.

 But from his arrival at the crease at No.3 against West Indies after an early wicket had fallen cheaply, Ikram looked anything but a novice against some admittedly often monotonously one-paced West Indian bowling on a pitch offering little to the faster bowlers.

 The compact left-hander punched the ball fiercely off the back foot through the off-side, moved swiftly into position to drive crisply off the front and was quick to punish anything short, on the stumps, swivelling on the balls of his feet with a series of robust pulls.

 Realising his quick bowlers were getting nowhere, Jason Holder did what so many captains have done throughout the competition and turned to a slow bowler, in this case Chris Gayle who responded with six economical overs - including the crucial wicket of Ikram.

 Earlier, Mujeeb Rahman, the 18-year-old right-arm spinner who was the first international player born in the 21st century, confirmed he can already be considered one of his country’s premier bowlers since his recall to the team after missing World Cup group matches against New Zealand and South Africa.

 Although he did not take a wicket against West Indies, Mujeeb finished the tournament with seven wickets at 37 apiece after opening the bowling for the fourth consecutive game.

 Before the West Indies’ match, Mujeeb had conceded only 4.3 runs an over, the best economy rate for a spinner in the tournament who had bowled at least 20 overs.

 By contrast, leg-spinner Rashid Khan, the team’s leading spinner, took six expensive wickets at 69 runs each.

As Gayle limbered up after Holder had won the toss, Mujeeb was the obvious choice to take the first over after previously dismissing the big left-hander twice in seven deliveries at the cost of just two runs.

Gayle treated the teenager, 21 years his junior, with almost theatrical respect throughout the opening four-over spell, but threw his wicket away soon afterwards with a flat-footed slash and was caught behind for seven.

 Mujeeb’s initial spell cost 13 runs with two boundaries. He was brought back for two further overs which went for only six, then became captain Gulbadin Naib’s bowling ninth change with an over which yielded only one.

 Thirty-two runs came off three overs as the West Indies cut loose in in the final 10 but his final figures of 10-0-52-0 were in respectable in an innings of 311.

 For Afghanistan, whose only World Cup victory came over Scotland four years ago, the West Indies were at least familiar opponents, as they had beaten them in three of their last four completed encounters, including last year’s final of the World Cup qualifiers in Harare.


 
 
 

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