Afghan cricket discovered a new hero in Sharjah on Wednesday, in the person of 18-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Afsar Zazai. Brought into the side on Monday to make his first-class (and senior international) debut, Afsar batted with enormous maturity and composure to take his side to a stirring three-wicket Intercontinental Cup victory over the Netherlands, making an undefeated 84 and hitting the winning run fifteen minutes after the lunch interval.
Resuming on 13 not out overnight and with 122 needed and four wickets in hand, he was joined at the crease by Mohammad Nabi, and these two put on 76 in a crucial seventh-wicket stand which turned the match decisively Afghanistan's way. The pitch was much flatter than it had been on the two previous days, and a game Dutch attack plugged away without much assistance as Afsar and Nabi steadily accumulated the runs, waiting patiently for the ball to hit and defending much of the time.
Peter Borren tried six bowlers in the pre-lunch session, rotating his attack in an attempt to find the breakthrough, and it was when he turned to Michael Swart for the first time in the match that it finally came, Nabi, on 25, not getting to the pitch as he drove on the on side and the ball looping to Heggelman for a low catch. But only 46 were now needed, and Samiullah Shenwari gave Afsar all the support he needed, taking the total up to 208 by the lunch interval.
The Afghan leg-spinner had a momentary scare in the final over before lunch when he edged a Bukhari delivery through the slips and it just failed to go to hand, but runs came readily enough after the interval, and when Borren reverted to Swart, Afsar finished things off in a hurry, pulling a four, slog-sweeping a big six and then driving through long on for the winning run. The Dutch bowlers had tried hard in 38-degree heat, Bukhari and Seelaar both bowling long spells, but it was Afghanistan's day, and in the end they thoroughly deserved their win.
They take 14 points from the outright victory, with the Dutch claiming the remaining six for their first-innings lead. The result enables the Afghans, the defending champions, to jump into second place on the table, 17 points behind Ireland, their next opponents.
The Netherlands, on 23, are in equal fourth position, level with the UAE, whom they will meet in Deventer in July.