Afghanistan evens the score
Afghanistan struck back after their resounding defeat by the Netherlands on Thursday, winning the second ODI of the two-match World Cricket League Championship series by five wickets in Sharjah on Saturday.
The inconclusive result to the series leaves both sides four points off the pace in the battle for two automatic qualification places in the 2015 World Cup, behind Ireland and the UAE, who will be the next opponents for Afghanistan and the Dutch respectively. Scotland are two points behind the leaders in third place.
Afghanistan's victory constituted a double fightback, for not only had they been outclassed in the first game, but in the second the Dutch, put in to bat by Nowroz Mangal, had reached 169 for three after 35 overs and were apparently well set for a total in the region of 280.
But with Tom Cooper and Wesley Barresi well set the Dutch batsmen now called their powerplay, and so well did Mohammad Nabi and Mirwais Ashraf bowl in those five overs that only 22 runs were scored, at a point where the momentum should have been quickening rather than slowing down.
The Dutch innings had begun quietly, with Michael Swart in particular being tested by some accurate bowling from Mirwais and Izatollah Dawlatzai. There was a further setback when Izatollah bowled Stephan Myburgh, but slowly Swart and Alexei Kervezee began to take control, and their stand of 89 in less than 14 overs laid the foundation for a big total.
Swart was severe on anything loose, hitting five fours and three sixes on his way to a half-century, but on 51, made from 57 deliveries, he tried to hit Nabi over the top again and holed out to Karim Sadiq.
Kervezee just missed out on a third successive fifty, caught in the deep off Samiullah Shenwari, and the Netherlands were 112 for three. Now followed another big partnership, this time between Cooper and Barresi, and for a while the Dutch seemed to be cruising.
Then came that powerplay, and with ten overs left the Orange Lions were on 191, perhaps some 20 short of where they would have wanted to be at that stage. Forced into trying to accelerate again, Cooper and Barresi fell within six deliveries, both caught on the boundary trying to hit over the top, and new batsmen were faced with the problem of scoring quickly against a reanimated Afghan attack.
Izatollah in particular came back with pace and accuracy, accounting for Barresi and then adding the scaps of Mudassar Bukhari and Tom de Grooth to finish with four for 38, and although the Dutch managed to get the total up to 256 for nine, Peter Borren contributing a run-a-ball 24 not out, that total was a good bit less than had seemed likely an hour earlier.
And it quickly began to seem inadequate, as Karim Sadiq and Javed Ahmadi, helped by some wayward bowling, raced to 53 from just seven overs in the short pre-lunch session. Karim was, as usual, the more aggressive of the pair, and he continued to ride his luck after the interval, even though the bowling had become more disciplined.
Splendid strokes alternated with fortunate ones as he found gaps all over the field. His fifty came from just 32 deliveries, his century from 72, and when he was out in the following over he had struck no fewer than twelve fours and four sixes, making exactly 100 in an opening stand of 142.
Borren kept switching his bowlers in an attempt to stem the flow of runs, and with the skipper himself, Cooper, Pieter Seelaar and Ahsan Malik Jamil all contributing useful short spells, it became gradually more difficult for the batsmen.
But the Afghans had wickets in hand, and despite the loss of Javed Ahmadi, stumped off Seelaar when he had made 43, Mohammad Shahzad and Nowroz Mangal kept the scoreboard ticking over. Shahzad, on 37, eventually fell to Timm van der Gugten, who now bowled his most sustained spell of the tour and collected the wicket of Shabir Noori into the bargain, and when Borren trapped Nabi in front, Afghanistan were 245 for five.
That meant only twelve we needed, however, and Nowroz, compiling a typically imperturbable 43 not out, and Asghar Stanikzai saw their side home with 22 balls to spare.