Afghanistan's World Cup dream is still alive after "world-class" Mujeeb ur Rahman helped spin his team to a three-wicket win against the West Indies in the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe.
The teenage leg-spinner took three wickets, including bowling the dangerous Chris Gayle neck and crop in a victory that kept their hopes of reaching the 2019 World Cup alive.
"(Mujeeb) is a world-class spinner and he knows his job," said Afghan captain Rashid Khan.
"He’s capable of bowling against any batsman. We’re just trying to give him more confidence."
Afghanistan bowled 39 overs of spin against the West Indies, restricting their scoring options on a helpful surface and keeping the Caribbean team to 8-197.
Shai Hope top scored with 43 while Mujeeb's 3-33 was supported by wickets to Mohammed Nabi (2-43), Sharafuddin Ashraf and Ashraf, who both collected 1-31.
"Rashid Khan and Mujeeb, they are top world-class spinners," agreed West Indies captain Jason Holder. "There’s mystery, and they’ve caused problems around the world."
Facing a must-win scenario in all of their Super Six games, having lost their first three group games and scraped through by virtue of having a better net run rate than Hong Kong and Nepal, Afghanistan appeared to have set up an easy chase when they kept West Indies to 8-197.
Two-time champions West Indies opted to bat first but they were soon in trouble when veteran batsman Chris Gayle misread a wicked wrong'un from Mujeeb - who is still two weeks shy of his 17th birthday - that beat the outside edge to cannon into the off stump.
For the Windies, aside from Hope’s contribution, veteran top-order batsman Marlon Samuels added 36, while Holder made 28 at better than a run a ball.
Holder himself made some early inroads to dent Afghanistan’s chase, removing opener Mohammad Shahzad for eight, and then striking later in the innings to finish with 3-39. He passed 100 ODI wickets for West Indies in the process.
"At the end of the day, our main focus is to win this tournament. Unfortunately we couldn’t get across the line today, so I guess it’s a bittersweet feeling," added Holder.
West Indies reduced Afghanistan to 6-168, and then 7-190 as what should have been a simple chase became a tense battle. But Rashid and Sharafuddin both struck boundaries to see Afghanistan home in the 48th over.
"In the first three matches, we bowled well and we batted well, but we didn’t finish well," admitted Rashid. "That was the only thing missing. But in the last two games, we’ve finished well."
In Bulawayo, Scotland raced to an imposing 6-322 against the United Arab Emirates thanks to opener Matthew Cross's second ODI century.
Cross shared in a 161-run stand for the second wicket with Calum Macleod, who registered 78, as Scotland weathered the pressure from UAE’s spin attack.
"It got a little bit sticky for a little while, but after that we managed to accelerate and put 320 up," explained Cross, who was named player of the match for his 114.
Scotland then imparted some pressure of their own, reducing UAE to 6-117 inside 20 overs. UAE’s lower order showed some fight with left-hander Mohammad Usman racing to a career best 80 and No.8 Ahmed Raza reaching his first ODI fifty.
Usman and Raza shared in a 105-run seventh wicket stand, and after they fell the tail quickly folded, with Scotland wrapping up their win by bowling UAE out in the 48th over.
Scotland now move to the top of the Super Six table, with five points, ahead of their match against Ireland at Harare Sports Club on March 18.
The top two placed teams from the Super Six stage will qualify for next year's World Cup tournament proper in England and Wales.