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Sri Lanka beat Afghanistan in Asian Games cricket final

INCHEON: Sri Lanka crushed Afghanistan by 68 runs to win the gold medal in the men’s Twenty20 cricket event at the Asian Games on Friday.

Unlike the previous day, when Sri Lanka won a coin toss to get into the gold medal match after their semi-final with Bangladesh was washed out, luck played no part in the final.

With a strong squad featuring three members of the team that won this year’s Twenty20 World Cup, Sri Lanka were too experienced and streetwise for their Afghan opponents.

Although they struggled with the bat, losing their last nine wickets for just 54 runs to be dismissed for 131 in their last over, Sri Lanka’s bowlers had no problems on a lively pitch.

They ripped through the opposition batting lineup in less than 18 overs, as Afghanistan crumbled to be all out for just 65.

Afghanistan made a bright start, reaching 20 without loss, before the wheels suddenly fell off. Opener Najeeb Tarakai top scored with 17 but only two others made double figures.

Lahiru Thirimanne top scored for Sri Lanka with 57 off just 37 balls, hitting seven boundaries and one towering six. The pick of the Afghanistan bowlers was off-spinner Mohammad Nabi, who took four wickets for 18 runs.

Like many of his team mates, Nabi was born in a refugee camp in neighbouring Pakistan during the occupation by the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

It was in those camps that many of the Afghan players first learnt the game of cricket. When they returned home in the 1990s, they took the game with them and set up a national team that has been slowly but steadily improving.

Four years ago, Afghanistan took the silver at the last Asian Games, confirming their emergence in a sport the country only embraced through war.

They have played in each of the last three Twenty20 World Cups and have qualified for the first time for the 50-over World Cup, to be played in Australia and New Zealand in early 2015.

Last year, the International Cricket Council formally recognised their improvement by granting Afghanistan associate member status.

Bangladesh, gold medallists four years ago, gained some consolation for their coin toss defeat to Sri Lanka by clinching the bronze with a 27-run victory over Hong Kong in the third-place playoff.

Bangladesh made 162-6 from their 50 overs, built on the back of a sparking 46 from all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan and an unbeaten 35 from Mahmudullah.

Hong Kong made an explosive start to their reply, smashing three sixes from the first seven balls of their innings, before the wickets began to tumble and the run rate slowed down and they finished with 135-7.

“We are disappointed that we couldn’t win the gold, but we are satisfied with the bronze,” said Mahmudullah. “We had a close game with Hong Kong, not too easy but not too difficult either.” (Reuters)

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