Afghanistan continued to make giant strides in the world of cricket as their Under-19 side caused a major upset to beat Australia by 36 runs in a Group B encounter in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Not very long ago in 2013, the senior team from the war-ravaged nation put all their personal strife in the politically volatile surroundings behind themselves and played their hearts out to qualify for the next edition of the World Cup in 2015.
In an interview with ESPNCricinfo, former Pakistan fast bowler and current coach of the senior Afghanistan side, Kabir Khan, had said, "The boys have faced a lot of pressure and they are getting used to it, and they are starting to enjoy it . I think for them, pressure is now something that they want to enjoy and grow into, as opposed to other amateur players who sometimes want to get out of it."
As far as pressure goes, the youngsters seem to have taken a leaf out of the senior side's emphatic journey thus far. At different points of the game, they showed great application and held their nerve to come back even as the Australians were starting to build partnerships in their bid to scale the Afghanistan total 253.
Winning the toss and electing to bat first, Afghanistan opener Mohammad Mujtaba (75) and number three batsman Ihsanullah (63) laid the foundation for the Afghanistan innings with a 126-run stand for the second wicket. Further contribution from Hashmatullah Shaidi (57) helped Afghanistan post a total of 253.
In reply, Australia had a rocky start, losing two early wickets. A couple of good partnerships between Jaron Morgan and Jake Doran (37 for the third wicket) and Jake Doran and Damien Mortimer (70 for the fourth wicket) kept Australia alive.
However, Afghanistan's right-arm medium pacer Abdullah Adil broke the vital fourth-wicket stand, after which the Australians collapsed. Adil finished with figures of four for 45 in nine overs while Sharafudding Ashraf picked up three for 55 as Australia folded for 217, 36 runs short of the Afghanistan total.
As it stands, Australia are just ahead of Afghanistan in the points table based on NRR, with Bangladesh leading the group and Namibia at fourth spot. To qualify for the next round, Afghanistan need to win by a big margin in their next fixture against Namibia.
Earlier on Monday, India qualified for the quarterfinals from group A. Kuldeep Yadav became the first Indian to take a hat-trick as the defending champions bowled Scotland for 88. India, after losing five wickets for 22, won without further hiccup.