Emiratis make Afghanistan work hard to qualify
Considering what was at stake it perhaps wasn't too surprising that the Afghan batsmen made heavy weather of chasing a modest UAE total of 100 at the Dubai International Stadium on Saturday, since the winners of the match would qualify for the World Twenty20 tournament in the West Indies in May.
The Emirati spinners kept the batsmen shackled for much of the innings, and it took two fine straight sixes from Asghar Stanikzai, brought into the side for the out-of-form Shafiqullah Shafaq, to swing the momentum Afghanistan's way.
The foundations of the Afghan victory, however, were a commanding display by the bowlers and a solid sheetanchor innings from opener Noor Ali Noori, who batted throughout for 38 not out and took the Man of the Match award.
The latter stages were much more tense than one might have expected, although the Afghans always had wickets in hand. But an 18th over in which Fayyaz Ahmed dismissed Asghar and conceded just one run kept the pressure on, only Qadar Nawaz's following one, off which 12 came for the loss of Mohammad Nabi, bringing the scores level with six deliveries to go.
Samiullah Shenwari ran himself out off the first ball of the last, Noor Ali defended the second, and then drove the third through extra cover to trigger wild celebrations by the players, support team, and hundreds of Afghan supporters who invaded the ground to congratulate their heroes.
The Emirati bowlers, too, deserved great praise, for they had made a commendable fist of defending their disappointing total. Shadeep Silva created the initial pressure by removing Karim Khan and Mohammad Shahzad, and Ahmed Raza bowled four admirably economical overs for just 12 runs.
That said, it was Afghanistan's attack which took control of the game from the outset, Shapoor Zadran and Mirwais Ashraf bowling the first eight overs and reducing the UAE to 11 for three after just 19 deliveries. Then Abdul Rehman and Saqib Ali achieved a partial recovery, adding 42 for the fourth wicket, but once Mohammad Nabi came on, dismissing Rehman in his first over, he and Hamid Hassan worked their usual magic, Nabi taking three for 17 and Hamid two for 23.
Nabi's dismissal of Saqib Ali for 24, trapped leg-before, ensured that the Emiratis would struggle to make a hundred, and in the end they only did so, with nine wickets down, off the final ball of the innings.
They did their best to defend it, but Afghanistan were not to be denied, and with Noor Ali's determination and Asghar's aggression, they eventually made it with three balls to spare.