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Shahzad, Stanikzai script Afghanistan win

Wisden India logo Wisden India 08-03-2016

A thriller was the least a sparse crowd in Nagpur deserved after travelling a fair distance to the Vidarbha Cricket Association stadium for the contest between Scotland and Afghanistan. What they got was their money’s worth as Afghanistan held their nerve to get the better of Scotland on a balmy Tuesday (March 8) night.

With the win, which was orchestrated by Mohammad Shahzad and Asghar Stanikzai, Afghanistan kept with the trend of getting the better of Scotland in Twenty20 Internationals as they extended their winning run to 6-0 with their 14-run win over Preston Mommsen’s men in their opening first round clash of the ICC World Twenty20 2016.

Opting to bat first having seen how the pitch behaved earlier in the day during Zimbabwe’s win against Hong Kong, Afghanistan were headed towards a massive total when Shahzad and Stanikzai got going. A decent effort from Scotland’s bowlers in the middle overs, though, meant they finished at 170 for 5 from 20 overs. It was a tough ask but when George Munsey and Kyle Coetzer got going, a successful chase seemed possible. An hour and a disappointing collapse later, it was just an it-could-have-been moment as Scotland’s run-chase frittered and finished on 156 for 5.

Scotland would be beating themselves about how they couldn’t capitalise on a shoddy bowling and fielding effort from Afghanistan, but there was little they could have done about Shahzad.

Shahzad, though, wasn’t a factor until later in Afghanistan’s innings. To start with, it wasn’t him who took on the spin-seam opening combination of Mark Watt and Josh Davey. Noor Ali Zadran, who is often the docile partner in one of the most successful relationships for Afghanistan, was the one doing the early running. He raced to 17 from 12 with two fours and a six before an overenthusiastic slash at a short and wide ball from Alasdair Evans resulted in a catch to Davey at third man.

Shahzad and Stanikzai came together with 25 runs on board and they weeded out the possibility of Scotland making further inroads by playing with the straight bat and not taking too many chances. The rebuilding went on for long enough to seem like they were struggling, but the ploy became clear by the end of the eighth over. Shahzad smashed Richie Berrington for the biggest six of the game before smacking Matt Machan for a couple of sixes the next over.

The combination continued to thwart every bowling change with one half throwing every sinew of his portly body behind every shot and the other moving the strike around to ensure said portly body was getting as many balls as possible. Shahzad he smashed his way to a fiery 61 from 39 balls with five fours and three sixes at a strike-rate of 156.41. At the other end, Stanikzai made the second-slowest half-century in World T20s, fifty from 48 balls. Stanikzai, though, stuck on till the end and provided the platform for the rest to open up.

Shahzad wasn’t able to stick around long enough and eventually toe-ended a seam-up delivery from Watt, the left-arm spinner, to Calum MacLeod at long off. Afghanistan could have had more but where they stood wasn’t bad especially when it seemed like 159 seemed a stiff total on the same strip in the first game.

The problem, as it turned out, for Afghanistan was that Scotland were more equipped than Hong Kong to chase down a big total and they themselves weren’t as clinical with the ball as Zimbabwe had been.

Landing the ball within the arc of George Munsey’s swing and keeping it slightly short to Kyle Coetzer were big mistakes and Afghanistan paid. After the first over, nearly every over there on cost them eight runs or more. The big overs weren’t just 10 runs big, some were as massive as 18, and that’s not a good sign against a side that has a few more batsmen coming on.

At one stage, it seemed like Scotland wouldn’t need to go that deep to complete a victory because Munsey and Coetzer had carried the side to 84 for no loss from 8.4 overs, meaning Scotland needed another 87 runs to win from 68 balls. And that’s when tragedy struck. Coetzer holed one to Najibullah Zadran at deep midwicket off Samiullah Shenwari and Munsey was trapped in front of the stumps by Rashid Khan two balls later.

From there on, it was the Rashid show. The legspinner, who was the architect of Afghanistan’s series wins over Zimbabwe, threw the ball up and got the batsmen to go after him. With the run-rate creeping up, the batsmen were left with no choice but to go after him and that resulted in the wicket of Berrington for Rashid, who finished on 2 for 28. Before which there was the silly run-out that accounted for MacLeod.

Despite that, as a result of that smashing start, Scotland were level with Afghanistan at the 15-over mark, both sides having got 120 runs. The difference was that Afghanistan had lost two wickets while Scotland had four top-order batsmen back in the hut. Also, they didn’t have a Stanikzai-like performance in the middle to aid them. They did have Matt Machan making 36 from 31 and Mommsen adding an unbeaten 17, but it wasn’t enough to topple a side that managed to execute its plans better on the day.

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