MUMBAI (Reuters) - Hazratullah Zazai gave his hopes of a trip to the World Cup this year a huge boost with a sensational display of power-hitting against Ireland on Saturday to help Afghanistan to a record Twenty20 international total.
The strongly-built opening batsman smashed an unbeaten 162 off 62 deliveries to power Afghanistan to 278-3 in the Indian city of Dehradun, surpassing the previous record of 263-3 set by Australia against Sri Lanka in Pallekele in 2016.
The 20-year-old's knock was the second highest individual innings in international Twenty20s behind Australia's limited-overs captain Aaron Finch, who scored 172 against Zimbabwe in Harare last year.
The left-handed batsman did, however, overtake Finch for the most sixes in an international innings by hammering 16 of them over the boundary to better the Australian's tally of 14 in a knock of 156 against England at Southampton in 2013.
Zazai also shared a format record partnership of 236 with fellow opener Usman Ghani, who hit a relatively modest tally of 73 runs from 48 balls.
Afghanistan's total unsurprisingly proved beyond the Irish, who succumbed by 84 runs to go 2-0 down in the three-match series.
Afghan spin sensation Rashid Khan compared Zazai to hard-hitting West Indian opener Chris Gayle in a tweet congratulating him on a "phenomenal performance".
Zazai will get a further chance to lay out his World Cup credentials in the five-match ODI series against Ireland that follows the final Twenty20 clash.
He has already proved himself capable of remarkable scoring feats in the shortest format of the game.
Last October, while opening the batting for Kabul Zwanan against Balkh Legends in the Afghanistan Premier League Twenty20 tournament, Zazai completed the rare feat of hitting six sixes in an over.
During his knock of 62 in that match, he also equalled the record for the fastest half-century in the T20 format when he reached the milestone off 12 balls, a mark he shares with India's Yuvraj Singh and Gayle.
Despite having those remarkable feats under his belt at such an young age, Zazai has yet to cement a place in the Afghan ODI side.
He played his only two 50-over matches against Ireland last August but was dropped for the Asian Cup later in 2018 and will need to carry his T20 form into the ODIs against Ireland to cement his place in the World Cup squad.
Afghanistan, who debuted at the 2015 World Cup, face defending champions Australia in Bristol on June 1 in their opening match of this year's 50-over international showpiece in England and Wales.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Nick Mulvenney)