The second day of the Intercontinental Cup match in Sharjah ended with the Dutch well on top, as Afghanistan lost six wickets for 111 chasing a fourth-innings target of 233. Earlier, the Netherlands had been dismissed for 228 in their second innings, leaving the Afghans with more than two days to get that 233, what would be the highest total of the match on a pitch on which batting has never been easy.
The Dutch batsmen had the better of the morning session, Michael Swart and nightwatchman Tom Heggelman seeing out the first hour and extending their second-wicket partnership to 50, although Heggelman was tested severely, being worked over by Izatollah Dawlatzai in one hostile over and then repeatedly playing and missing outside off stump. It was Swart who eventually fell, however, trapped in front for 24 immediately after the drinks break by leg-spinner Samiullah Shenwari, who repeated the trick three balls later to remove Eric Szwarczynski. At 57 for three, another collapse seemed possible.
But Heggelman continued in partnership with the experienced Tom Cooper, and by the lunch interval had reached a battling 46. He reached his half-century in the second over after lunch, and reached 59 before he was caught behind off a very marginal decision, playing the ball as it pitched. He and Cooper had added 53 for the fourth wicket, but his departure was the trigger for a middle-order collapse, five wickets falling for 28 runs in the space of eight overs as Sami and Izatollah hit back.
Suddenly the Netherlands were on 138 for eight, and one of the five had been Cooper, a fourth victim for debutant Afsar Zazai behind the stumps when he had made a patient 35. The Afghans sensed another low target, but Peter Borren and Pieter Seelaar, the latter assisted by Ahsan Malik Jamil, added a crucial 90 runs for the last two wickets, Borren changing the tempo with a run-a-ball 43 before he was bowled by Dawlat Zadran, and Seelaar then equalling his score in a thrilling last-wicket stand which included one massive straight six onto the pavilion roof.
Seelaar's 43 came from 41 deliveries with five fours and two sixes, but he was eventually the last man out on the stroke of tea, a fifth wicket for Izatollah, who again bowled with considerable pace and fire and finished with five for 45. Samiullah Shenwari took three for 75 and Dawlat two for 63.
So Afghanistan were faced with a target of 233, but their chase got off to a dreadful start when Mohammad Shahzad was trapped in front by Jamil in the second over. Javed Ahmadi soon followed, tempted by Bukhari into skying an ill-judged pull shot which was well taken by Barresi, and the Afghans were 15 for two. That became 33 for three when Shabir Noori, who had played and missed countless times, also skied a pull, and Barresi ran a full 30 metres to backward square leg to take a magnificent diving catch.
Nowroz Mangal joined Asghar Stanikzai, and they survived for sixteen overs, putting on 53 before Nowroz, who had never looked as settled as he had in the first innings, drove Seelaar to mid-on and was well caught by Heggelman.Only Asghar seemed at all comfortable, although he too flirted with many a delivery outside off stump, and he made a valuable 43 before falling to a return catch by Seelaar. Dawlat joined fellow-nightwatchman Afsar at the crease, but he was bowled by Seelaar in what was the final over of the day, and Afghanistan were left on 111 for six.
Seelaar has three for 21, and his contribution may be the key to this game's final act. But Afsar has batted promisingly for his 13 not out, and with Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shenwari and Mirwais Ashraf to come, the Afghans will go into tomorrow believing that they still have a real chance of winning. At this moment, however, there is no question that the Netherlands are favourites to complete a rare outright victory away from home.