Afghanistan only just hold on
Today's match between Afghanistan and Malaysia should have seen the tournament favourites ease to a simple win over a team that often promises much but fails to deliver. But instead we had a roller coaster match that saw the game swing from one team to the other, with only an excellent spell of bowling from Hamid Hassan enabling Afghanistan to win, by just one run.
Afghanistan batted first after skipper Nowroz Mangal won the toss, and they started well. Karim Sadiq scored a run a ball 46 opening the batting, whilst number three Asghar Stanikzai scored 41. But those two aside, they were losing wickets regularly.
But there was one man who stayed in. Like he did against the UAE yesterday, Raees Ahmadzai held the innings together. At one point Afghanistan went from 144-3 to 167-7 in ten overs, but Ahmadzai stayed in, taking the ones and twos when needed.
He started to hit out towards the end of the innings, scoring 64 from 59 balls to help Afghanistan reach 236-6 from their 50 overs. It was his innings that was to prove crucial for the Afghans at the end of the day.
In reply, Malaysia lost Rakesh Madhavan early on, but fought back. Originally scoring slowly, they paced their innings well and began to pick up pace in the middle overs. Captain Suhan Kumar and Anwar Arudin put on 80 for the fourth wicket in 16 overs, and when Kumar was out for 61, with the score on 177-4, Suresh Navaratnam took over the big hitting duties, scoring 33 from 28 balls.
Malaysia were looking like pulling off an upset, one which would put Afghanistan out of the tournament, barring an even more unlikely upset by Bhutan in tomorrow's game against Malaysia.
But the reintroduction of Hamid Hasan into the attack with six overs remaining was to prove the turning point. At that point, Malaysia needed just 18 runs from six overs. But Hasan had Arudin caught behind from the first ball of the over, and trapped Shafiq Sharif lbw from the very next ball.
Four dot balls rounded off the over, but with Suresh Navratnam still at the crease and scoring quickly, they would still have been confident of winning the match. But Shahpoor Zadran had Navratnam caught behind from the first ball of the 46th over, and Malaysia had lost three wickets for no runs in seven balls.
Shukri Rahim and Nik Arifin fell in the 47th over, and Malaysia needed their last pair to put on 12 runs from the last three overs. A single and a wide were taken from the first five balls of the 48th over, and Sharul Nizam hit the last ball for four, swinging the game back Malaysia's way, with six runs needed from the last two overs.
With the pressure on, Hamid Hassan went for just two runs in the 49th over, leaving four runs needed from the last over, which was to be bowled by Nowroz Mangal. Nizam swept the first ball for a single, the second was a dot, and then Hassan Ghulam ran a quick single, leaving two runs needed from three balls.
Another dot ball, and then Nizam was caught behind from the fifth ball, sparking wild celebrations amongst the hundreds of Afghanistan fans in attendance. Afghanistan had won by one run with one ball to spare.
Hassan finished with 5-44 from his ten overs, and was given the man of the match award, though it has to be said that Raees Ahmadzai probably deserved it just as much, if not more, as if it wasn't for his innings, Afghanistan wouldn't even have made 200.
Afghanistan's group games are now over, with just Malaysia's matches against Bhutan and the UAE to come. If Malaysia can win both of those - Bhutan should be no problem, and if they play like this again against the UAE on Tuesday, a win is possible there - it will come down to net run rate to decide who goes through to the semi-finals. Malaysia will have the advantage of knowing exactly what they need to do when they play against the UAE.
In the other match of the day, one which on paper should have been closer than today's contest, Nepal took on Singapore.
Singapore were bowled out for 216, and Nepal eased to a seven wicket win thanks to 87 from Mahesh Chettri and 83 from Anil Mandal.
Tomorrow's matches will see Malaysia take on Group B whipping boys Bhutan, hosts Kuwait play Oman, and defending champions Hong Kong play Singapore. CricketEurope will have a live scorecard from the Kuwait v Oman match.