Afghanistan v Scotland, World Cup 2015, Group A, Dunedin February 26, 2015

Scotland's long wait goes on

The pain of this defeat will haunt Scotland all the more with their future participation at World Cups under threat

When Majid Haq is an old man, dozing by the fire, he will still wake in a cold sweat replaying that chance.

When memories of his fine innings have faded, when he has forgotten about the two good catches he took or the fact that he bowled his first nine overs for just 26 runs, that edge will still be looping its way to him. He will still move for it, still feel he has it covered. And the ball will still end up on the grass next to him.

Regrets, like tattoos and former partners, can linger long after their charm has gone.

Samiullah Shenwari had scored 20 when he edged Richie Berrington to Haq at slip. It is often said that no slip catch is easy, but this was the exception. Mark Waugh might have taken the ball behind his back. With one hand. Blindfolded. On a unicycle. Afghanistan would have been 88 for 5 had it been caught.

Shenwari went on to make a match-defining 96. To add to Haq's woes, Shenwari thrashed him for three sixes in the bowler's final over. It ruined his figures and put Afghanistan back on track.

It is pointless to deny it: had Haq taken the catch, Scotland would surely have won. But you lose, as you win, as a team. And if each man in Scotland's side is honest, they will reflect that they were the architects of this defeat.

The bowlers will know that, in conceding 11 extras in no-balls and wides, they donated runs that might have cost the game. Calum MacLeod will know that, by steering a long-hop to backward point, he gave his wicket away softly. Matt Machan will know the shot that cost him his wicket - an awful attempted smear through the off side - displayed a lack of composure and match awareness that may have defined the game.

Kyle Coetzer will be cursing the lack of foot movement that left a gate so large, Dawlat Zadran could have driven a truck through it and Iain Wardlaw will be ruing the leg-side full toss that allowed Shapoor Zadran to flick the fate-sealing boundary.

Even from the penultimate ball of the game, victory was there for the taking. Had Machan, tearing in from square leg, hit with his throw from a few feet, Shapoor would have been run out.

Scotland may never have a better chance to win a World Cup game. In their third appearance in the tournament, in their 11th match, they had this game in their grasp. When they claimed the eighth Afghanistan wicket, their opponents were still 79 runs from victory.

"We didn't play our best cricket, but it's still a game that we should have won," Preston Mommsen, the Scotland captain, said. "Both with the bat and with the ball we got into winning positions, but we couldn't find the killer punch, which is regrettable.

"We managed to gain quite a bit of control when we got to 93 for 3. Then soft dismissals just handed it back to them.

"We had the opportunity to really nail it. So that is disappointing. That is something that we need to look at as a batting group. Guys are getting in, doing all the hard work, and then not going on to make it count.

"Six guys getting in and no one getting to 50, well, that's not something that we're proud of."

What was the most galling aspect of this defeat?

Was it that Scotland performed so admirably in clawing their way back into the contest? Was it that, after losing an important toss on a pitch offering Afghanistan's potent attack substantial assistance, they earned a good foothold in the game, first through Machan and Mommsen and then through Haq and Ali Evans?

Haq and Evans' partnership was little short of heroic. Adding 62 for the ninth wicket, they demonstrated composure and game awareness in simply picking off the singles, benefiting from Afghanistan's porous fielding - certainly the weakest aspect of their game - and picking off the odd bad ball. But it was also a stand that showed up the profligacy of their top order.

And then, later, Evans in particular bowled an immaculate first spell to put the brakes on Afghanistan before Berrington, the weak link in the bowling attack, really, claimed career-best figures in a demonstration of skill and nerve.

But the most galling part may be that, in essence, this match was Scotland's World Cup. This was their opportunity - possibly their last opportunity - to demonstrate the progress they have made. This was their most realistic opportunity to win a game. This was their opportunity to show the ICC, and the watching world, that they belonged.

Richie Berrington's four-wicket haul was not enough to secure Scotland a maiden World Cup win © AFP

Oh, yes. They will know it. Keen followers of Associate cricket will know it. But the rest? In years to come, they may leaf through the pages of Wisden and view this Scotland team in the same way we view the East Africa team that contested the 1975 World Cup. Something of an oddity. Arcane. No-hopers. And they are much, much better than that. Cricket can be cruel.

"Experience is a huge thing," Mommsen continued as he tried to make sense of the loss. "Particularly as a global event. We are still new boys. Maybe that showed today."

The answer, clearly, is to provide more opportunities. To nurture and encourage cricket in Scotland. To help it flourish and grow. But the current ICC doesn't see it like that and, as things stand, Scotland may struggle to pass this way again. Life doesn't always provide second chances.

It will be no help right now but, in years to come, Scotland's players might console themselves in the knowledge that they were involved in one of the great World Cup encounters. One of only five one-wicket margins in the tournament's history. They may, in time, also take consolation in the joy of their Associate brothers from Afghanistan. No-one could begrudge them their maiden World Cup victory - the first of many - or fail to enjoy the uninhibited passion with which they play.

This was a good day for cricket. It showed, for the second day in succession, that Associate nations enrich the World Cup. It provided an eloquent case for their ongoing inclusion. It may, sooner rather than later, become impossible for the ICC to deny it.

But none of that will matter to Scotland right now. They've squandered a chance that may never come round again. And they know it.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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