After opting to bat, four Afghanistan batsmen scored half-centuries – Rahmanullah Gurbaz (69), Ibrahim Zadran (68), Bahir Shah (67 not out) and the incredible Azmatullah Omarzai (66 off just 23). Thereafter, having posted a mammoth 309/6, Mujeeb Zadran (4/14), the mystery spinner, and Qais Ahmed (4/33), the leggie, ran through the line-up.
Australia, who Afghanistan will meet in the Super League semi-final, would have taken note. In fact, the whole cricket-watching world would have taken note. It was that sort of performance, from a bunch of boys sporting black armbands in memory of those that were lost in the recent attacks in Kabul and Jalalabad.
The New Zealand bowlers had a torrid time in the first innings, especially in the last five overs when Azmatullah’s belligerence ensured 77 runs were added. But perhaps it could all have been different had New Zealand held on to their chances. Ibrahim was dropped twice – first by Felix Murray when he was 15, and then on 23 by Sandeep Patel. He had a nervy, slow start, and had New Zealand to thank for their generosity. At the other end, Gurbaz was on a whole other level. He displayed excellent timing, and his inherent power ensured most of his swings found the fence.
The openers added 117 – an Afghanistan U19 record – within 21 overs, with Gurbaz scoring 10 boundaries, three of them sixes. He brought up his half-century off just 55 balls, but Patel made amends for his earlier drop by forcing an inside-edge that clattered into Gurbaz’s stumps. There was a slide thereafter. Ikram Ali Khil managed just four before being caught-and-bowled by Murray, even as Zadran kicked on to bring up his own half-century. Patel accounted for him as well though and when Darwish Rasooli (3), a known big-hitter, holed out shortly thereafter, Afghanistan were 182/4.
However, in the final ten overs, the gears shifted yet again and New Zealand could do little about it. Azmatullah used his powerful arms to great effect – by the time he holed out with two balls remaining, he had plundered seven sixes and three fours. It put to shade Bahir’s fine 72-ball unbeaten 67, and that’s saying something.
New Zealand never looked likely to meet the target, given the way they started. It was a collapse of mammoth proportions as they were flummoxed by the skill and guile of Mujeeb. They were 20/4 within seven overs.
The implosion started with a run-out though, with Rachin Ravindra dismissed for nought after attempting a quick, perhaps unnecessary single. Mujeeb took over thereafter, with both Jacob Bhula and Kaylum Boshier, the New Zealand captain, being clean bowled, unable to read his googlies. When Finn Allen, the in-form big-hitter, was caught behind off Naveen-ul-Haq, Afghanistan knew they merely had to concentrate and finish the job.
Thereafter, there was a resistance that might not be remembered in the larger scheme of things, with Dale Phillips and Katene Clarke adding a commendable 66 runs, making Afghanistan wait a good 13 overs for their fifth wicket having nipped out four in the first seven. It was a nervy stay in the middle, marked by at times desperate running, but the more they stayed in the middle, the easier the runs came. They took New Zealand into the 80s when the legspinner, Qais Ahmed, broke through after Phillips missed his full toss and was trapped in front. That triggered another slide, with Patel edging Qais to slip before he trapped Clarke in front as well. New Zealand were 93/7.
First Published: January 25, 2018, 12:29 PM IST