Fast bowlers Mirwais Ashraf and Shahpur Zardan rattled Hong Kong, propelling Afghanistan into the Asian Games cricket semifinals with an eight-wicket victory on Wednesday. Ashraf (3-8) and left-armer Zardan (2-9) polished off the top order in pacey unchanged opening spells of four overs each. Hong Kong was eventually bowled out for 63 in 17.4 overs. Afghanistan raced to 66 for two in 13.2 overs to secure a place in Thursday's semifinals against Pakistan. Mohammad Shahzad and Nowroz Mangal both remained unbeaten on 20.
Nadeem Ahmed (17) and Jamie Atkinson (16) led the Hong Kong innings, but both fell to captain Mohammad Nabi's offspin bowling. "I think Pakistan will be more scared of us after today's performance than we are from them," Nabi told the Associated Press. Zardan, who frequently gets bowling tips from Pakistan's star fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, hoped the wicket stays the same on Thursday.
"I think every fast bowler will love to bowl on such a lively track," said Zardan, who struck twice in his third over to reduce Hong Kong to 12 for four. Afghanistan took wickets at regular intervals and never allowed Hong Kong's batsmen to settle down. as Nabi wrapped up the innings when he had Ahmed stumped.
"I think Afghanistan used the conditions very well," said Hong Kong captain Najeeb Amar, who was run out in the first over without scoring.
Afghanistan coach Rashid Latif, a former Pakistan test cricketer, expected the toss to play an important role in Thursday's game against his home country. "Batting first is not easy and both Afghanistan and Pakistan have good fast bowlers so naturally the toss could be crucial," Latif said.
Latif said is quietly confident that Afghanistan can reach the final. "Of course I would love to see Afghanistan winning tomorrow because I am their coach," he said. "I am not saying we will win gold medal, but if we win, it will change the lives of people back in Afghanistan."
Sri Lanka was playing Nepal later Wednesday, with the winner taking on Bangladesh in the other semifinal.