Shenwari shines for Afghanistan
Afghanistan 174 for 8 (Shenwari 61, Zahid Hussain 3-16) beat Canada 133 (Shenwari 4-14) by 41 runs
Afghanistan maintained their perfect record in Group A thanks to a superb all-round effort by Samiullah Shenwari that helped them beat Canada by 41 runs at the ICC Global Cricket Academy. While the final margin indicates a comfortable win in the end for Afghanistan, the match could have easily been tilted in Canada's favour, but fortune seemed to favour the Afghanistan players on the day, none more so than Shenwari.
Afghanistan got off to a rollicking start thanks to Karim Sadiq, who toyed with Canada legspinner Junaid Siddiqui in the second over to hit a string of boundaries: a late cut to third man, a cut through point and a straight drive through mid-on. Sadiq's aggressiveness almost got the best of him off the fifth ball of the over when he tried to drive down the ground again on 17 and sent a sharp return chance which Siddiqui could not hang onto.
Sadiq plundered another 19 runs after the drop, including a six over square leg that put a charge into the hundreds of flag-waving Afghan supporters in attendance, before Zahid Hussain spun Canada back into the match with three wickets in four balls. The left-arm spinner induced a leading edge from Sadiq that went to Jimmy Hansra at cover. Shabir Noori crossed while the ball was in the air and was on strike for the next ball, which he scooped to Hiral Patel on the boundary at long-on.
After Mohammad Shahzad nudged a single to prevent a hat-trick, Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal danced down the pitch first ball and was beaten in the flight. Rustam Bhatti fumbled badly behind the stumps, but Mangal had given up and Bhatti recovered to scoop up the ball and dislodge the bails to make it 53 for 3 four balls into the eighth over.
Shahzad was joined by Shenwari and the pair took a few overs to settle before Shenwari decided it was time to have a go. With the score at 70 on the last ball of the 12th and Shenwari on 6, he slogged Harvir Baidwan back towards Patel on the long-on boundary. Patel misjudged the ball badly, running in five yards before watching in horror as it sailed over his head and landed just over the rope for six.
"Those chances you have to take," Canada captain Rizwan Cheema told ESPNcricinfo after the game. "If you miss one it will always hurt you. He came in just a little bit. If we took that catch it would be a different story."
"I was just thinking God help me," Shenwari said, describing his mindset while the ball was in the air. "He didn't [catch it]. I wanted to take my chance and be positive."
Shenwari could not have been more positive, cracking 49 runs off his next 20 deliveries with only one dot ball in that stretch. He showed his class in the 14th over with identical boundaries off back-to-back deliveries, stroking Baidwan wristily through midwicket. He brought up his half-century in 31 balls, and his stand with Shahzad produced 80 for Afghanistan, setting a solid platform for the bowlers to defend. The only time luck went against him was when he was run out for 61 in the final over trying to pinch an extra run and get back on strike off a wide.
Canada did not shrivel in the face of the target of 175. After the early setback of losing both openers, Siddiqui led an audacious assault that began by slogging Sadiq over midwicket for six, part of a 17-run fourth over. Against Izatullah Dawlatzai in the fifth, Siddiqui pulled a short ball for four and when Dawlatzai responded by pitching it up, Siddiqui was ready to drive him through the covers to the rope. After five overs, Canada stood tall at 53 for 2.
Three balls later, Shenwari began to put his stamp on the second innings with his legspin, cutting Canada back down to size. He tempted Siddiqui with a flighted delivery on the stumps and the batsman couldn't resist one more heave. It brought about his demise for 21. Nitish Kumar continued to soldier on and had Jimmy Hansra provide brief support as they took the score to 73 after 9 overs, but Shenwari struck again to start the 10th. Hansra played back when he should have been on the front foot and was trapped in front for 6.
Canada's last threat was a potential blinder from Cheema, but he lasted just four balls before holing out to the safe hands of Mohammad Nabi at mid-on in the 11th. Tyson Gordon tried to sweep a full toss from Shenwari and was struck on the toe for another leg before and Baidwan made it two in two when he tamely pulled Shenwari to deep midwicket.
Canada had thrown their best punches to start the chase but were now out on their feet at 87 for 7. The rest of the innings meandered with the result a foregone conclusion. Kumar provided some resistance before slashing to third man for 38 and Canada eventually finished on 133 for 9.
Afghanistan remains in pole position in Group A with 10 points while Canada sits on six points, and is suddenly under some pressure to hang onto the third and last playoff spot, with Nepal breathing down their neck. Canada and Nepal square off on the final day of group matches, on Tuesday, in a match that could decide who takes third.
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey