Afghanistan face uphill struggle in Sharjah
Afghanistan were facing a huge task by the end of the second day of their Intercontinental Cup match against Canada at the Sharjah CA Stadium, still needing 307 to avoid the follow-on with seven wickets in hand.
A fine century by Sunil Dhaniram and a record-breaking last-wicket partnership enabled Canada to set a very substantial first-innings total, and they were all out for 566 - the fourth-highest total in Intercontinental Cup history - forty minutes before tea.
Resuming on 350 for six, the Canadians added 128 runs at better than a run a minute, or nearly four an over in the pre-lunch session. Dhaniram, on 38 overnight, and his partner Umar Bhatti began cautiously, but they took full advantage of any loose deliveries, and they had extended their seventh-wicket stand to 80 before Mirwais Ashraf achieved the Afghans' solitary success of the session, Bhatti edging to keeper Mohammad Shahzad when he had made 31.
It was spinners Mohammad Nabi and Samiullah Shenwari who did most of the morning's work, bowling 21 of the 33 overs between them. They prevented the batsmen from running riot, but they were unable to take the wickets their side so sorely need.
Dhaniram was on 83 when Bhatti departed, and he proceeded unperturbed towards his third first-class century, supported by an uncharacteristically subdued Rizwan Cheema, the scourge of many ODI attacks but here content to play second fiddle. Once Dhaniram completed his hundred, however, which came off 146 deliveries with 13 fours and one six, Cheema began to show more signs of aggression.
After the interval, the removal of both batsmen within four balls gave the weary Afghans hope of finishing things off quickly. First Dhaniram's splendid innings came to an end, the left-hander becoming Sami's fourth victim when he had made a 189-ball 130, with 16 fours and one six.
And then Cheema edged Nabi to Shahzad, and Canada were 495 for nine. But still Canada hadn't finished: Hiral Patel, who batted at three in the first ODI last week, came in as last man, and he and Khurram Chauhan proceeded to add a further 71 for the last wicket, the highest in the Intercontinental Cup.
Sami's final figures of four for 118 were some reward for his hard work, while Mirwais took three for 103 and Nabi two for 144.
When Patel hit a return catch to Mirwais Ashraf, having made 36, Afghanistan were left with a tricky half-hour spell before tea. Shabir Noori and Noor Ali negotiated those seven overs safely, and reached the interval with the total on 19 for no wicket. They extended that to 30 before Noor Ali fell to Umar Bhatti, but Asghar Stanikzai defiantly hit the tall left-armer for three fours in the same over.
Canadian skipper Ash Bagai has much more bowling at his disposal than his Afghan opposite numer, and he soon adopted a policy of bowling his spinners in short spells from one end while persisting with seam from the other. Rizwan Cheema produced a fine ten-over burst in the course of which he bowled Asghar; runs were now hard to come by, and it's a measure of the Afghans' uphill struggle that Canada have bowled 16 maidens in the 40 they have so far delivered, while Afghanistan managed only 19 in the entire 152 overs of the Canadian innings.
Shortly before the close off-spinner Ramesh David claimed his first first-class wicket when he had Nowrooz Mangal caught by Dhaniram, and Afghanistan ended the day on 110 for three.
There are, however, a few positive features in the Afghans' situation: opener Shabir Noori has made a good start and is on 46 not out overnight, the pitch remains batsman-friendly, and they bat deep, with Mohammad Shahzad also at the crease and Mohammad Nabi, Raees Ahmadzai, Karim Khan and Samiullah Shenwari still to come.
Even so, they are in unknown territory here, and it will take a massive display of character and determination for them to save this match, let alone take anything concrete from it.