First-day honours to Canada in Sharjah
Canada relentlessly drummed home the realities of international cricket to a weary and depleted Afghan attack on the first day of their Intercontinental Cup match in Sharjah on Saturday, but four wickets in the final session, including two in the last half-hour, restored some degree of balance to the encounter.
Afghan coach Kabir Khan will no doubt be reminding his players this evening that they not only chased down a total in excess of 400 against Ireland in Dambulla last month, but went on to secure an outright win on the final day.
Even so, it will be Canada who will be more pleased with the day's events, as they posted a first-day total of 350 for six. The highlight of the day was a third-wicket partnership of 155 between Nitish Kumar and Ash Bagai, but all the Canadian batsmen contributed to what still might become a really imposing score.
Skipper Bagai, who started the day by winning what may prove to be a crucial toss, top-scored with 93, his highest in first-class cricket, although he will be doubly disappointed at having missed his century, since he departed within an over of his partner Kumar at a time when he would have wanted to consolidate.
Those two wickets, the first to Shahpoor Zadran, the second to Mirwais Ashraf, came just before the Afghans took the new ball, but Sunil Dhaniram and debutant Ramesh David weathered the storm, adding another 58 for the fifth wicket, and Dhaniram was still there at the close, on 38 not out and looking to push the total out of Afghanistan's reach on Sunday morning.
The Afghans went into the match without seamers Hamid Hassan and Dawlat Ahmadzai, but Mirwais Ashraf was included in their eleven, as was opening batsman Noor Ali Noori, who missed the second ODI on Thursday after straining a leg muscle while making his hundred two days earlier. Canada gave a first-class debut to Hiral Patel and Ramesh David.
Canadian openers Sandeep Jyoti and Trevin Bastiampillai began steadily against the Afghan new-ball attack of Shahpoor Zadran and Mirwais, and it did not come as a surprise that by the 14th over Nowrooz Mangal introduced spin, turning to Mohammad Nabi.
And it was Nabi who secured the breakthrough, having Jyoti caught by substitute fielder Shafiqullah Shafaq with the total on 61. Jyoti had made 32, hitting five boundaries.
Bastiampillai continued in tandem with Nitish Kumar, who took some time to settle against Nabi and Mirwais, the latter bearing the brunt of the bowling in this first session. The Afghan seamer bowled three spells in the course of the morning, switching ends after he had had a six-over spell, bowling another four, and then returning to turn in two more immediately before lunch.
But Bastiampillai remained unperturbed, bringing up his fourth first-class half-century, from 69 deliveries with eight fours, twenty minutes before lunch, and Canada reached the interval on 107 for one. He did not survive long after the interval, however, as leg-spinner Samiullah Shenwari induced him to edge to keeper Mohammad Shahzad in the second over of the afternoon session without addition to his score of 55.
With only two mainline seamers, the attack after lunch comprised almost entirely spin, Sami and Karim Khan bowling long spells until, an hour and a quarter into the session, Shahpoor finally returned.
Kumar and Bagai were by now well set, the former having posted his maiden first-class half-century, off 114 deliveries, and Bagai followed suit nine overs later, from 93 balls, as the 200 came up. The scoring rate accelerated as Nowrooz was forced to turn to part-time bowlers Raees Ahmadzai and Asghar Stanikzai, and even the return of Mirwais to bowl the penultimate over before tea did little to stem the flow of runs.
The score was 234 for two at tea, and Kumar and Bagai added another 32 in ten overs before Shahpoor, returning to the attack, got rid of Kumar for an excellent 74, made from 182 deliveries with seven fours. Bagai moved on to 93, but then fell to Mirwais off the first ball of the following over, having hit 15 boundaries in his 144-ball innings.
The final twist in an absorbing day's play came when Sami resumed, and bowled David for 27. Although Dhaniram and his new partner Jimmy Hansra each hit him for six within a single over, he had his revenge when he trapped the latter leg-before in his next, finishing with the well-deserved figures of three for 66 from 21 overs.
As is so often the case, the first hour's play tomorrow will play a vital part in the match: if Afghanistan can pick up the remaining four Canadian wickets for 50 or so runs, they will fancy their chances of taking first-innings points, while Canada will hope that Dhaniram and the remaining batsmen can continue well past lunch to build a really imposing total.