Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sri Lanka join Afghanistan in semifinals

Mighty Sri Lanka, the world's third-best Test team, looked distinctly second-rate on Wednesday when minnows Nepal came agonisingly close to pulling off a stunning Asian Games upset.

Despite boasting 11 players in their squad who have played international one-day cricket, Sri Lanka only squeezed past Nepal's amateurs by two wickets to set-up a semi-final clash with Bangladesh.

Thursday's other last-four showdown will feature Pakistan against Afghanistan who comfortably saw off Hong Kong by eight wickets in their quarter-final.

After Nepal had been restricted to 72 all out, with former Test player Jehan Mubarak claiming three wickets, Sri Lanka reached 31-1 before suffering a worrying middle order collapse, losing six wickets for just 11 runs.

Captain Paras Khadra, Basant Regmi and Amrit Bhattarai took two wickets each for Nepal, who play in the World Cricket League Division Four.

But Sri Lanka steadied themselves and Sajeewa Weerakoon hit the winning runs with seven balls to spare.

Earlier, Afghanistan restricted Hong Kong to just 63 in a one-sided contest.

Hong Kong had no answer to Afghan opening pair Shahpur Zadran and Merwais Ashraf, slumping to 15-6 in the eighth over.

Zadran grabbed 2-9 and Ashraf took 3-8 in their allotted four-over spells as the Hong Kong batsmen looked out of their depth on a pitch offering some encouragement to the bowlers.

Hong Kong's opening bowlers Aizaz Khan and Irfan Ahmed looked lively but failed to make the early breakthroughs required and Afghanistan reached their target in the 14th over for the loss of just two wickets.

Mohammad Shahzad and Nawroz Mangal both finished unbeaten on 20.

"We are a good bowling side. We have two fast bowlers and it's difficult to bat on this wicket as it's a seaming wicket," said skipper Mohammad Nabi.

"It's not going to be easy to play Pakistan. They are a good team, but we've played very well in the past three or four years and we have played together as a team."

Coach Rashid Latif, a former Pakistan Test player, said he was confident Afghanistan could beat Pakistan, predicting a low-scoring contest on the bowler-friendly pitch.

"On paper Afghanistan are stronger than Pakistan and I'm very hopeful because my players are mentally and physically tough.

"We have a good fast bowling and spinning attack and are agile in the field," he said.

Last year Afghanistan rose to the International Cricket Council's (ICC) Division One, narrowly missing out on a place in the World Cup to be held in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh next year.

They qualified for the World Twenty20 held in the West Indies earlier this year by winning qualifying rounds in Dubai.

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