UAE triumph in battle of the favourites
When the two tournament favourites meet, you can usually be guaranteed a close match. And today's match between Afghanistan and the UAE at the ACC Trophy Elite in Kuwait, whilst a low scoring contest, was no exception.
Afghanistan captain Nowroz Mangal won the toss and chose to bat first. The opening pair of Karim Sadiq and Noor Ali put on 41 together, but Karim's dismissal sparked a mini collapse to 57-4, three of the wickets being taken by Shadeep Silva, leaving Afghanistan in the position of having to fight their way back into the match, a position they have been in a number of times before.
Mohammad Shahzad and Raees Ahmadzai set about rebuilding the innings. They rotated the strike well, the majority of their runs coming in ones and twos. and at one point Afghanistan went more than 100 deliveries without a single boundary. Shahzad was dismissed for 33 in the 36th over, having shared in a 58 run partnership for the fifth wicket.
Ahmadzai was eventually dismissed for 56 made from 100 balls. He began to hit out towards the end of the innings, sharing in 78 run partnership for the sixth wicket with Samiullah Shenwari. It was Shenwari who was doing most of the big hitting, and he hit 50 runs from 46 balls. Hamid Hassan played a brief cameo late in the innings, hitting a four and two sixes in his 6 ball unbeaten innings of 19.
Afghanistan had finished on 217-7 from their 50 overs, and with the pitch taking lots of spin (the UAE bowled 40 overs of spin), they would have been hoping that their spinners could perform the same role that Mohammad Nabi, absent due to visa issues, usually plays for them.
The UAE's reply got off to the worst possible start with a wicket maiden on the first over, and at one point they were reduced to 62-4, and were always well behind the required rate. But Saqib Ali rescued them, providing the spine of their run chase.
Saqib played an almost perfect "come from behind" limited overs innings. He started slowly, making ones and twos, and when wickets started falling behind him, he began to dominate the strike. He then began to hit out towards the end of his innings.
But wickets were still falling, and when Qadar Nawaz was dismissed in the 48th over, the equation had the UAE needing 16 to win from 15 balls. Qasim Zubair then loosened the pressure valve by hitting a four from his first delivery. Two leg-byes were taken from the penultimate ball of the over, and another four from Zubair from the last ball of the over left the UAE on top, needing six to win from the last two overs.
The scores were brought level in the 49th over, and Saqib hit the first ball of the last one for a single to win the match by two wickets. Saqib finished the match on an unbeaten 93, and was the obvious winner of the man of the match award.
Afghanistan now have what is essentially a must win match against Malaysia on Saturday. Whilst they still could qualify for the semi-finals if they lost, that would involve Malaysia losing to Bhutan, which on current form is unlikely. CricketEurope will have a live scorecard from that game.
There were of course two other games today.
Defending champions Hong Kong got their tournament back on track with a six wicket win over hosts Kuwait. Kuwait were bowled out for 202, and Hong Kong had little trouble knocking off the required runs with six overs to spare, Hussain Butt leading the way with an unbeaten 82.
Nepal's margin of victory against Oman was also six wickets. They bowled well to restrict Oman to 169-9 from their 50 overs, and then knocked off the runs with ease in 38.3 overs.
Nepal play again tomorrow in a game against Singapore, that has a little extra dimension to it given the incident at the World Cricket League Division Five tournament in Kathmandu in February.