Afghanistan show they mean business
Afghanistan were always expected to beat Bhutan relatively easily on the opening day of the ACC Trophy Elite in Kuwait, but the manner of their victory showed that they're not going easy on the weaker teams and also indicated that they're at the top of their game as they aim to win the ACC Trophy for the first time.
Bhutan's captain Damber Gurung won the toss at the Hubara ground and put the Afghans into bat. It is reasonably safe to say that decision was a mistake. Afghanistan smashed a massive 471-5 from their 50 overs. Asghar Stanikzai top scored with an unbeaten 151, but he wasn't the only centurion, with Karim Sadiq scoring 130 and Noor Ali chipping in with 108.
Their total is the fourth highest in an official international one-day match, beaten only by Saudi Arabia's 499-6 against Brunei at the 2006 ACC Trophy, the Maldives 486-5 against Brunei in 2005 and the Netherlands' 474-8 against Norway in the 2008 European Championship. Papua New Guinea's two 500 plus totals against New Caledonia came in unofficial internationals.
Unsurprisingly, Bhutan came nowhere near their huge target, and were bowled out for 78. Hameed Hassan was the pick of the bowlers with 6-18, including a hat-trick, as Bhutan lost by 393 runs, the biggest margin of defeat in an official international one-day match.
The match between two of the tournament favourites at the Unity ground was somewhat of a damp squib. Hong Kong captain Najeeb Amar was stuck at the airport in Hong Kong, and his replacement, Roy Lamsam, lost the toss, with Nepal captain Paras Khadka opting to bat first.
Nepal lost Mahesh Chettri early on, but Anil Mandal and Shakti Gauchan put on 118 for the second wicket, providing the backbone to their innings. Mandal was the top scorer, hitting 72 before he was run out as the Hong Kong spinners, four of them, began to tighten the screws.
Gauchan was dismissed soon afterwards for 65, and Nepal suddenly found the going a little tough, with runs hard to come by. Mahaboob Alam and Dipendra Chaudhary provided some late order runs, hitting three sixes between them to help take Nepal's total to 236-7 from their 50 overs.
Hong Kong's reply started badly, with Roy Lamsam and Moner Ahmed dismissed early on, Moner from his first ball. Ilyas Gul gave the innings some impetus with a lusty 27, but his plan to hit the ball in the air was always going to fail, and he was fooled by a slower ball which he chipped to Shakti Gauchan at midwicket.
Hong Kong were eventually bowled out for 118, with Mahaboob Alam the pick of the bowlers with 3-33. Nepal won by 118 runs, with Anil Mandal taking the man of the match prize. Hardly the perfect start to Hong Kong's title defence.
The other match of the day was between hosts Kuwait and Singapore at the KEC ground. Probably not the most interesting game of the day on paper, it turned out to be a thriller.
Kuwait captain Hisham Mirza won the toss and chose to bat first, and he scored 45 in the Kuwait innings. He was outscored by Saad Khalid with 68 and Lasantha Dimuthu with 50 as his team reached 252-9 from their 50 overs.
When Singapore were reduced in reply to 194-9, despite 90 from skipper Munish Arora, it was looking like Kuwait would pick up an easy win. But the last wicket pair of Saad Janjua and Shoib Razak had other ideas. They took it to needing 30 runs from the last three overs and when they took 11 from the 48th over, they needed 19 from the last two.
Five runs were taken from the first five balls of the 49th over, and when a four was hit from the last ball of the over. Ten needed from the last over then, and when Kuwait conceded two leg byes from the first ball of the final over, it looked like they were throwing away a winning position.
But they pulled things back, only conceding four runs from the remainder of the final over, and they won by the slender margin of three runs. Saad Janjua had batted well for his 49 not out, but it wasn't enough.
Tomorrow's matches will see Bahrain and Malaysia play each other at the KEC ground, Singapore will hope to bounce back by beating Oman at Hubara, whilst Bhutan have another formidable opponent at the Unity ground, where they will take on four time champions UAE. CricketEurope will have a live scorecard from the Oman v Singapore contest.