Afghanistan bowl with pace and promise
When you watch an Associate nation play a Test team, the first point of difference you usually notice between the sides is their seam attacks. The spearhead of the Associate team's attack, apart from the rare exception such as Boyd Rankin, is usually a medium-fast bowler: a Martin Suji or a Mudassar Bukhari, bowling in the low-to-mid 120s.
On Thursday against Pakistan, Afghanistan opened their bowling with Shapoor Zadran, a towering left-armer with a run-up so long it was a throwback to an earlier era, and Dawlat Zadran, a right-armer with an action redolent of Waqar Younis.
Dawlat was nearly as quick as Waqar too. He bowled at an average speed of 138.4kph, and his fastest ball clocked 145.3kph. Shapoor wasn't too far behind, averaging 134.2kph and hitting 142.4kph at his quickest. Hamid Hassan, who is part of their squad but didn't play this game, is reputed to bowl as fast as Dawlat, perhaps even faster.
Against Pakistan, Dawlat wasn't always on the money with his line and length but Shapoor mostly was. He seemed to know exactly how to bowl to Sharjeel Khan, a left-handed opener who loves width but gets into closed positions against balls directed into his body, and finds it difficult to tuck the ball away into the leg side. Afghanistan's team seemed to have sat down and done their homework on him. When Shapoor bowled to Sharjeel, one of their catching fielders was a leg gully.
How have Afghanistan managed to unearth so many fast-bowling talents, someone asked their coach Kabir Khan during the post-match press conference.
"We are culturally strong, well-built and tough," Kabir said. "They are aggressive. Kids back home want to be fast bowlers, not spinners. That's natural."
Hamza Hotak clearly wasn't one of those kids. His ESPNcricinfo profile says he compares his bowling style to Daniel Vettori's, and you would believe him if you saw his aggressive pivot at the bowling crease, after he came on in the tenth over of Pakistan's innings.
Out of that brisk action, the ball usually emerged with enough loop and inward drift to make batsmen think twice about where it would drop. Hotak bowled eight overs for 22 runs, and took the wicket of the left-handed Sharjeel Khan. It was a mow to deep midwicket, but the ball's trajectory contributed in some way towards making the batsman hit the ball straighter than intended.
From the 12th over of Pakistan's innings to the 22nd, Hotak bowled in tandem with Mirwais Ashraf, a medium-pacer in the Gavin Larsen mould. In those 11 overs, Pakistan scored 31 runs and lost two wickets.
Ashraf had a simple plan against Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez. Just back of a driving length, outside off, angling in, with the odd ball moving away off the seam. If you have a thing for accurate bowling, and if you're a geeky sort of cricket fan, gaze at Ashraf's beehive clusters against Shehzad and Hafeez. They are objects of beauty. Not a single ball on leg stump. Not one. He might have played most of his ODI cricket against fellow Associates, but Ashraf's career economy rate of 3.97 isn't to be baulked at.
After all those stifling overs from Hotak and Ashraf, Afghanistan brought on Samiullah Shenwari, their legspinner. Shenwari is never going to win an intra-team contest for the neatest-looking beehive cluster, and he bowled his share of long-hops and full-tosses to the Pakistan batsmen. But he also bowled some little gems. In his fifth over, he performed the classic legspinner's two-card trick: a ripping leg-break that spun across the face of Anwar Ali's bat, followed by a slightly shorter skidder that hurried Anwar into an ungainly defensive stroke.
Shenwari's two wickets in Afghanistan's first Asia Cup appearance may come to be overshadowed by the catch he dropped of Umar Akmal, which ultimately allowed Pakistan to get away to a match-winning total. The bowlers lost some sting after that, and Akmal's aggression rattled them enough for them to concede 59 in the last five overs. But that shouldn't take away from how they had given their opponents a real scare before that. There's definitely more to come from this attack.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo