If there were any lingering doubts about Afghanistan's stature as one of the most mercurial sides in limited-overs cricket, Rashid Khan and Mohammad Shahzad dismissed them in style during Tuesday's epic Asia Cup tie against India. Having secured their place in Friday's final, India fielded a weakened side for the dead rubber, resting skipper Rohit Sharma, and bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Yuzvendra Chahal.
Afghanistan were already eliminated from the competition but appeared determined to make a statement against their neighbours, who have helped develop the game in the strife-torn nation, even offering two grounds to host 'home' matches. In the end, Asghar Afghan's team departed on a high note as spin-bowling talent Rashid sent down a brilliant final over to help pull off the 36th tie in one-day cricket history.
"When you tie with a team like India, it's like winning," skipper Afghan summed said after the thriller at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium as his side bowled India out with one ball to spare. "They usually chase easily. It is good for the fans as well." Shahzad was adjudged man of the match for his belligerent 124, which powered Afghanistan to 252 for eight.
Opener Lokesh Rahul, who top-scored for India with a fluent 60 in his first match of the tournament, was not surprised by the growth he had observed in a side who became the 12th test playing nation in June. "We've seen how much they improved as a team in the last couple of years," said Rahul, who shares the Kings XI Punjab dressing room with teenage Afghan spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman in the Indian Premier League (IPL). "We've seen the likes of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb, (Mohammad) Nabi play in the IPL and perform... around the world for different franchises.
"Overall as a team, they cannot be seen as walkover. They're very competitive as a one-day and T20 side. They keep proving it over and over again," said Rahul, adding that the match would "stay in our memories for a long time". Afghanistan beat Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the group stage but departed from the Super Four segment without a win despite featuring in three final-over thrillers.