Afghanistan win ACC Twenty20 again
The third ACC Twenty20 Cup ended in similar fashion to the first two, with Afghanistan lifting the trophy. They shared it with Oman in 2007 and won it outright in 2009, adding a third title after beating Hong Kong in today's final.
Afghanistan batted first after winning the toss, and were quickly on the back foot when they were quickly reduced to 24-4. Gulbodin Naib and Asghar Stanikzai then recovered the innings with a partnership of 49 runs for the fifth wicket before Stanikzai was out for 11.
Gulbodin then put on 42 for the sixth wicket with Mohammad Nabi. Nabi's dismissal for 24 in the penultimate over sparked a run of four wickets in four balls, including that of top scorer Gulbodin for 57. Hamid Hassan then hit a four and a six before being bowled by Munir Dar to become the left-arm spinner's fifth wicket.
Afghanistan had made 125 in 19.5 overs, a low target and one that Hong Kong would normally have been confident of chasing.
They started badly initially, with Irfan Ahmed being bowled by Hamid Hassan in the first over of the match. But they recovered well, with Waqas Barkat and Jamie Atkinson putting on 48 for the second wicket before Barkat was out for 22 at the end of the eighth over.
At this point, with the score on 52-2 and well ahead of the required run rate, Hong Kong would have been confident of winning the tournament. But after Courtney Kruger was out for 17 in the twelfth over with the score on 79-3, the wheels began to come off.
Atkinson tried to hold things together, and when he was out for 35 from the first ball of the 18th over, Hong Kong were 105-6. The nineteenth over, bowled by Hamid Hassan, saw three wickets, including a run out, from the first three balls, ensuring that Hong Kong wicket-keeper and former Scotland Under-19 player Mark Ferguson would be required to bat for only the second time in the tournament.
He and Nadeem Ahmed couldn't score the twelve runs they required from the last nine balls though, and Ahmed was run out in the final over with the score on 117 and Afghanistan had won by eight runs.
Hong Kong will of course be disappointed not to have won the final, but the main objective of qualifying for the global qualifier was reached, and all four semi-finalists will now be looking towards Dubai in March. Afghanistan may have a bigger fixture coming up though, with rumours circulating that they will play Pakistan in their first ODI against a full member nation during the England v Pakistan series in the UAE.
This tournament ends what has been quite a busy year for the ICC's associate and affiliate nations. All but a handful have played at some point during the year, with over 250 Twenty20 matches as part of the regional qualifiers. Quite what they have learned from Twenty20 cricket remains to be seen, but with the routes to the one-day World Cup being closed off, it is here to stay in the short term. Only time will tell if that is good for their cricket or not - I suspect not.