In a match that has seen the highest spectator turnout in the Etisalat domestic trophy, Laghman beat Paktika by 39 runs to grasp the group B seat in the semi-finals. Laghman is the second team to make its way to the semi-finals after Panjhsir qualified from group A.

As usual the match started with the national anthem of Afghanistan. Laghman's skipper Pamir Hussaini won the toss and elected to bat first. It was Friday (a day off in Afghanistan) and a large spectator turnout was expected especially from Laghman province that is neighbouring the capital Kabul and is about an hours drive from Kabul.

More than 10,000 fans showed up and due to lack of seating facilities, the tiny areas surrounding the boundary were not enough to accommodate them. Many fans occupied nearby hills and rooftops. Finance Minister and Chairman of ACB Dr. Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal was able to find a seat in the VIP area on the rooftop of the dressing rooms.

Laghman was surprised by losing their first wicket for a duck from the first ball of the match. But its second wicket managed a 50 runs partnership before their second wicket was sent to the dressing room in the 11th over. The third wicket of skipper Pamir Hussaini was gone in 13th over for 73 runs mounting the pressure on Laghman to slow down the score.

Laghman lost their 4th wicket in the 22nd over, 5th wicket in the 30th, 6th and 7th in the 33rd over, 8th wicket in the 41st over, 9th wicket in the 43rd over, and last wicket in the 47th over. It was the last wicket that succeeded in a quick 4 overs partnership making 51 runs to take up Laghman's score to 211 runs in 46.4 overs.

Paktika knew it won't be an easy task to chase their target given their opponents had some pace bowlers who could bowl well in the windy environment that dominated the entire second half. Paktika did not attempt big shots trying to keep wickets, but its first opener was sent to the dressing room in the 8th over for 25 runs.

Paktika wickets kept falling, losing skipper Asaddullah in the 9th over, and their 3rd wicket in the 12th over. They still had Ahmad Shah Ahmadi (U19 coach and former national team player) and Murad Ali (U19 wicket keeper) to bat. Together they put on a partnership of 40 runs, but Ahmad Shah was out when he tried for big shot and was caught in the covers, Afzal Zazai taking the catch.

Pressure was building on both sides when Murad Ali frustrated Laghman's bowlers and occupied the crease for another 15 overs without putting a significant score on the scoreboard, and more pressure came when Chairman of ACB and Finance Minister Dr. Hazram Omer Zakhilwal suddenly showed up to watch the last 10 overs of the match.

Paktika was 117 in the 37th over when they lost their 8th wicket of Murad Ali who was run out due to a misunderstanding with his colleague. It was Paktika's 9th wicket (Gul Khan) who gave some hope to Paktika's fans. Gul Khan scored 33 runs including 2 long sixes and a few wonderful boundaries. He was out in the 44th over when Paktika was 171. Paktika's last wicket only made one run, all out for 172 in 45 overs.

Laghman won by 39 runs, cruising to the semi-finals from group B. It is the second team, after Panjshir, to qualify for the semi-finals. Man of the match was Fazal Khan of Laghman who scored 45 runs and took two wickets.

The surprise of the day was Chairman of ACB Dr. Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal who joined more than 10,000 of his countrymen in the ground. ACB CEO Aimal Shinwari told The Cricket Post, “I told him not to come as we have not made security arrangements for such a high ranking official, but he insisted to go to and watch the game in the ground”. Zakhilwal is the highest ranking official to watch a domestic match in Afghanistan so far. He excused himself many times to President Hamid Karzai from his post in the ACB, but it seems he now realizes the popularity of cricket in Afghanistan and fell in love with it as much as the rest of the cricket fans in this war-torn country.

Many national team players including Karim Sadiq, Shahpoor Zadran, Raees Ahmadzai and Hasti Gul were present amongst the spectators as well. National team players were asked by ACB not to play in the Etisalat Trophy and take some rest before heading to the Netherlands to play in WCL Division One.

Group C matches start tomorrow when strong Logar takes on the unknown Jowzjan. The match will be broadcast live on Shahmshad TV.

Article reproduced by kind permission of The Cricket Post