Afghanistan 321 for 3 (Ihsanullah 124, Rahmat 103, Naveed 2-52) v UAE
Back in the late 1990s during The Rock's heyday with the WWE, he developed one of his trademark promo routines.
The Rock would bring out a rival wrestler that he'd most likely be facing at an upcoming Pay Per View and then set him up with a basic inquisitive question such as "What's your name?" or "What do you think about this?" Before the opponent could get more than a few words out, The Rock would embarrass his opposite number by cutting him off shouting, "IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK!"
At the toss on Wednesday for Afghanistan's final Intercontinental Cup encounter, UAE captain Rohan Mustafa sent Afghanistan in to bat, telling the TV commentary crew that the pitch had a tinge of green to it and he wanted to take advantage of early conditions. Though not nearly as arrogant as The Rock, when Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai was asked how he felt about losing the toss, he responded much like the People's Champ, saying, "It doesn't matter who wins the toss."
Such is Afghanistan's swagger nowadays when hanging around the Associates that they are leaving behind following this match. It is justified too. Whether it is because the pitch was flat and there was little to no movement on offer for the UAE bowlers, or because Afghanistan is just so dominant in this tournament with four innings victories in a row, the toss was of little consequence to Stanikzai. Bat first, bowl first, Afghanistan will set out to seek and destroy their opponents.
That's how day one played out at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium. Following the early wicket of Javed Ahmadi - suckered into hooking to long leg - Ihsanullah and Rahmat Shah batted in metronomic fashion to grind 197 for the second wicket - a record for Afghanistan in the Intercontinental Cup.
The pair came together in the seventh over and were circumspect early as Amjad Javed tried to build pressure. He ended his sixth over with figures of 0 for 14 and three maidens when drinks were called after 13 overs. But after play resumed Javed's focus wavered when he dropped short to be cut behind point. Three balls later, Javed overcorrected and Ihsanullah drove him past mid-off for the second boundary of the over. From there, a long day of toil lay ahead of Javed and the rest of the UAE bowling attack as the medium pacers posed little threat while the spinners received scant assistance on a flat pitch.
There was nothing audacious about Ihsanullah's strokeplay. The 19-year-old batsman was borderline robotic in his methods, programmed to block anything on the stumps and only drive when width was offered outside off. Rarely did he play across the line to open up scoring options on the leg side. It was simple, but effective. His innings could best be described as mature, especially for someone playing just his fourth first-class match, and just the kind of temperament needed for Afghanistan's entry into Tests.
Entering the day, Ihsanullah's best first-class score was 63, coming last month in Hong Kong. He nearly doubled it by the time he was done. He had a willing ally in Rahmat for much of the journey to ease the load.
Rahmat was more adventurous, particularly against the spinners. After taking his time to see off the rest of the new ball, Rahmat treated the 100 or so Afghanistan fans who turned out to a nifty display of footwork, regularly using his feet to come down the wicket to Ahmed Raza and Rohan Mustafa.
When Ihsanullah reached his half-century off 77 balls, Rahmat was only on 20 and by the time the junior batsman reached the 90s, Rahmat was still comfortably behind him. But after Rahmat reached his own fifty off 102 balls, he sprinted down the pitch to UAE's slow bowlers with regularity to speed up his scoring rate.
In the 57th over, a shimmy down the pitch to scoop Mustafa over his head followed by a thumping cover drive took Rahmat into the 90s. He overtook Ihsanullah in the following over after another charge at Raza helped him clear mid-on for another boundary. Rahmat then clipped a couple through mid-on in the final over before tea to bring up his second first-class ton. In the process, Rahmat and Ihsanullah eclipsed their country's previous best stand in the Intercontinental Cup. Mohammad Nabi and Mohammad Shahzad had added 178 for the fourth wicket in their epic fourth-innings chase of 494 against Canada in Sharjah in 2010.
Shortly after play resumed, the stand ended three short of 200 when left-arm spinner Raza had Rahmat slicing a thick edge to Chirag Suri at point. Having watched from the stands as Rahmat and Ihsanullah ground down the UAE bowling unit, Stanikzai then backed up his "It doesn't matter" stance by tearing into the hosts early and often through the off side, cruising to 67 not out by the end of play.
At the other end, Ihsanullah continued to churn out runs through the off side until he brought up his maiden ton off 165 balls by clipping Raza off his pads for two. Though the second new ball was taken immediately, the movement on offer was as negligible as the first and Ihsanullah looked set to bat on. It took a spectacular effort from Mohammad Naveed, who plucked a one-handed grab low in his follow through to intercept a firm punch down the wicket, to dismiss Ihsanullah for 124.