Afghanistan managed to gain two crucial points in the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup with an emphatic win over the Netherlands by seven wickets in Lucknow.
Rahmat Shah (52) and Hashmatullah Shahidi (56*) stood tall for Afghanistan with a stand of 74 runs for the third wicket. Despite, managing to eke out early wickets, the Netherlands weren't quite in the game due to their modest outing in the first innings.
With this third win on a trot, Afghanistan sit with eight points on the World Cup table and have boosted their chances of a knockout spot.
Afghanistan's reliable opening pair of Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran got them off to a characteristic brisk start. Boundaries flowed with ease as the Asian side went at about five and a half an over. This went on till Gurbaz was taken down the leg side off Logan van Beek. While initially ruled as a wide, the decision was eventually overturned after Scott Edwards took a review.
Rahmat Shah and Ibrahim Zadran then joined forces to ensure that Afghanistan went ahead at a fair pace.
Even though Ibrahim fell to Roelof van der Merwe in the 11th over, Afghanistan were moving towards their target at a steady pace.
Having reached a solid 109 at the 20 over mark, Rahmat and Hashmatullah Shahidi picked up pace. Although Rahmat fell to Saqib Zulfiqar in the 23rd over, Afghanistan went at 6.5 an over between overs 21-25.
Afghanistan eventually cleared the line in the 32nd over.
Earlier today, erratic running resulted in the loss of four Dutch batters while the rest of the wickets were snared by Afghanistan spinners. Keeper Ikram Alikhil stood out for his sharp work behind the stumps, being involved in three run-outs, a stumping, and two catches.
Scott Edwards called it right at the toss and elected to bat first. Afghanistan skipper Hashmatullah Shahidi also said that he too would've liked to bat on the wicket.
For the Dutch, Vikramjit Singh and Shariz Ahmad were out, with Roelof van der Merwe and Saqib Zulfiqar coming in their place. Wesley Barresi opened the innings in place of Vikramjit. For Afghanistan, Naveen-ul-Haq missed out as Noor Ahmad entered the side, opting for a four-pronged spin attack.
Netherlands's new opening pair didn't last too long at the crease as the pinpoint accuracy of Mujeeb Ur Rahman accounted for Barresi in the very first over. He trapped the veteran Dutch batter lbw for 3. This was Mujeeb's 100th ODI wicket.
The Dutch batters were, however, soon among runs. Max O'Dowd and Colin Ackermann were positive as they found the boundaries at regular intervals. A number of their boundaries also came out of fine touches down the leg side or edges which safely travelled behind the wicket. The duo were already going over six an over at the end of the first Powerplay.
Afghanistan's concerns were further exacerbated when Rashid Khan walked off the pitch with an injury concern in the fifth over. However, the all-rounder returned to the field a few overs later.
The Dutch pair were going steady when a superb throw from the deep accounted for O'Dowd (42). The ball drifted to the batter's leg, who placed it towards the fine leg region. The batters took off with an easy two in mind, but O'Dowd's return was impeded by some exceptional work from Azmatullah Omarzai, who charged in and induced a direct hit.
The Netherlands scoring rate dropped as the new batters tried to settle in. However, a sequence of run-outs off back-to-back balls derailed their innings.
Sybrand Engelbrecht set off for a sharp single after placing a ball straight to the mid-off. Sharp work from Rashid sent back the set Ackermann (29). Off the very next ball, skipper Scott Edwards tried to sweep Mohammad Nabi, but missed and ended up edging towards the keeper. Ikram Alikhil stopped it with his legs, before running out Edwards for a duck.
Nabi soon had Bas de Leede caught behind for three and the Netherlands had lost half their side at the start of the 21st over.
From 112/5 at the mid-innings mark, the Netherlands failed to build up towards an ending that would get them to a strong total. While Engelbrecht looked the best batter out there, hitting a flurry of boundaries, other batters fell to erratic strokes.
And when Engelbrecht was himself run out while going for a rash single in the 35th over, the Dutch effort was all but over.
Netherlands and Afghanistan remain in the hunt for a semi-final spot following victories for each side in their last match at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023.
The Dutch beat Bangladesh to add to their earlier upset over South Africa, but need to back it up against Afghanistan and then win their two remaining matches to snatch a potential place in the knockout stage.
Afghanistan are better-placed with three wins in their past four matches though they also have little margin for error and will want to bank a fourth victory when they face Netherlands with only heavy-hitters Australia and South Africa still to come.
Net run rate looms as the key to progressing to the semi-finals and both Netherlands (current NRR -1.277) and Afghanistan (-0.718) are in desperate need of securing a healthy boost along with the two points.
This will be the 10th ODI between the pair, with Netherlands winning the first 50-over clash in 2009 but only coming out on top once more in 2012.
Afghanistan won all three of their ODI meetings at the start of last year while batting first and setting Netherlands challenging targets, but the stakes are much higher this time as the Cricket World Cup approaches the pointy end.