February 12, 2010

Afghanistan

Afghanistan suffer first defeat

Liam Brickhill

Netherlands 132 for 6 (Kervezee 39, Nabi 3-23) beat Afghanistan128 for 9 (Ahmadzai 23, Jonkman 2-23) by four wickets

Afghanistan's dream of a place at the World Twenty20 was placed on standby after their defeat to Netherlands at Dubai International stadium. Put in to bat in an electric atmosphere in front of a crowd of well over 2,500, Afghanistan were restricted to 128 for 9, with several batsmen making starts but none able to push on for a big total. In reply, Alexei Kervezee and Eric Szwarczynski got the chase off to a flier, and Netherlands weathered a late fightback from Mohammad Nabi and Hamid Hassan to register a tense four-wicket win.

Afghanistan had to be on top of their game in the field after posting such a modest total, but they let themselves down with several fielding and bowling lapses to allow Netherlands to take control. Mohammad Shahzad, the wicketkeeper, put down a chance in the first over of Netherlands' chase, and the 18 extras given away did nothing to help Afghanistan's attempts to restrict the scoring. In the tense closing moments of the game, Shapoor Zadran's casual attempt at a catch let Ryan ten Doeschate, the last recognised batsman at the crease, off the hook and he lofted Hassan over mid on three balls later to seal the win.

Zadran's economical opening spells have been one of the vital ingredients in Afghanistan's success in this tournament so far. He leaked runs against Ireland, but gave away just 21 runs in eight overs against Scotland and USA. Admittedly, he would have been frustrated by the missed chance off his third ball today, but he was unforgivably wayward thereafter, giving away four boundaries in his opening spell.

Kervezee provided most of the momentum as Netherlands raced to 64 in under nine overs, but when he was bowled around his legs sweeping at Nabi, Afghanistan sniffed a chance for an unlikely comeback. Nabi held on to a stinging return catch to get rid of Szwarczynski in his next over, and when Bas Zuiderent was trapped in front by Samiullah Shenwari for two, Netherlands had slipped to 74 for 3. Daan van Bunge eased the pressure with a towering six over long off, but when he was dismissed attempting to repeat the shot, the nerves set in.

Hassan has been a talisman for Afghanistan bowling at the death in this format, but without the weight of runs to put pressure on the opposition's batsmen, his effectiveness was limited in this game. As a proven wicket-taker he was also introduced a little too late, when only 39 runs were required off 48 balls. After Peter Borren's senseless run out, Hassan rattled Atse Buurman's stumps with a searing yorker second ball, but ten Doeschate drew on his experience – and took advantage of a dropped catch – to guide Netherlands home with seven balls to spare.

ten Doeschate was named Man of the Match for his efforts, which included Nabi's wicket when Afghanistan batted. That dismissal was the third of the innings, after a double strike by Mark Jonkman, as Afghanistan slipped from 30 without loss to 32 for 3. Jonkman has built up a reputation as one of the quickest bowlers outside the Test arena, but he also exhibited a well-disguised slower ball to bowl Nowroz Mangal for 10.

Confused calling then led to Mohammad Shahzad's run out to reduce Afghanistan to 51 for 4. Raees Ahmadzai collected two fours in his 23 – the highest score of the innings – but after his dismissal wickets fell at regular intervals as Afghanistan slipped to 92 for 7. Ashraf aimed two massive strikes over long on to lift the score in the closing overs, but it was probably 20 runs short of the total Afghanistan needed.

Netherlands will be buoyed by this result, which gives them two valuable points ahead of their second encounter against Ireland tomorrow. Afghanistan carried two points into this round courtesy of their win over Ireland in the group stage, but after today's loss will be hoping for a strong victory in their game against UAE tomorrow to enhance their chances of making it to the West Indies.

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Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town

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