Afghanistan have grown from being a minnow to one of the most exciting teams in white-ball cricket.
Over the last couple of years, they have at least produced one nail-biter of a game against a big team in a multi-nation event. Remember the 2018 Asia Cup, in that match against India, which was MS Dhoni's last appearance as a skipper? Afghanistan had drawn that game.
On Tuesday, at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, in the final group game of the 2023 edition of the continental event, Afghanistan produced a game of ages against defending champions Sri Lanka. The result may show that Sri Lanka won by two runs to record their 12th consecutive win in the format, but the game could have been titled either way, with hopes being shattered to pieces for Afghanistan as a result of apparent miscalculation and sheer miscommunication.
It was a do-or-die game for Afghanistan in the Asia Cup meeting against Sri Lanka. After having incurred a heavy defeat to Bangladesh in their opener, Afghanistan needed a victory by a huge margin to chase down the target in less than 40 overs to up their chances by the NRR list. The scenario was that, if they could accomplish that, Afghanistan would have found themselves above the incumbent champions in the NRR list and join Bangladesh in the Super Four stage.
With Kusal Mendis' 92 powering Sri Lanka to 291 for eight after they opted to bat first, the equation for the Hashmatullah Shahidi-led side eventually came down to the fact that they needed to chase down the target in 37.1 overs to qualify for the Super Four.
Although the top-order failed for them, the middle-order, inspired by Mohammad Nabi's brilliant 32-ball 65, stood tall with the skipper scoring 59 off 66 while Rahmat Shah chipping in with a 40-ball 45. Until the Nabi show, Afghanistan were well in the game requiring 90 runs more in 64 balls. Followed by cameos from Karim Janat and Najibullah Zadran, the eventual responsibility stood on the shoulders of Rashid Khan, who smashed three boundaries in the four four balls of the 37th over.
Afghanistan required three to win in the next one delivery and it was all up to Mujeeb Ur Rahman, but the batter instead holed out at long-on. Rashid was left dismayed. He was on his knees. It was all over for Afghanistan. Each of those faces in the dressing room, as the camera panned through, wore a disappointed look.
But, it wasn't yet over.
There was an apparent miscommunication from the dressing room probably, or the analyst must have got it wrong, but Afghanistan could have still made the Super Four if they had hit a six in one of the next three deliveries. And the lack of knowledge about that second hope was evident from the manner in which last man Fazalhaq Farooqi attempted the next three balls. He played two defensive strokes, one of which was against a loppy low full toss, before being trapped lbw.
Rashid was left despondent, surely not for the miscalculation from his side, but at the dramatic change of fate, which did not even deny them a win in Lahore.
"We were never communicated those calculations," Trott said in the post match press conference.
"All we were communicated was we needed to win in 37.1 overs. We weren't told what the overs in which we could get 295 or 297. [That we could win in] 38.1 overs was never communicated to us."
"I don't think there's one reason we lost the game," Trott said. "There are areas of the game we could have done better [in] and that goes for today's game and the one against Bangladesh. We got some things horribly wrong in a few areas and it's cost us. It'd be nice if we'd bowled them out a bit cheaper. But it wasn't to be."