For anyone not named Sachin Tendulkar, being given an opportunity to play a so-called farewell match is rare at the Test level. At least in a bilateral series among Full Members, there is some flexibility, because, with the exception of ranking points, there are few administrative consequences for a farewell flop. Things like losing ODI status or $500,000 in ICC funding, which accounts for 25% of your operating budget.
So in the world of Associate cricket, where virtually all matches have context, in terms of promotion or relegation, securing or maintaining ODI or T20I status, and the ICC funding package attached to it, the farewell match is virtually a non-existent concept. However, the Desert T20 tournament is a rare shift from that on both fronts. Associate teams are always desperate for more cricket, but this tournament comes without the desperate measures attached to it.
For former Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal, who announced his retirement at the start of the month, it means he has been afforded the opportunity by the Afghanistan selection - of which he is set to take over the head role - to have a "farewell series" in the words of Afghanistan's team management. Mangal has been warming up daily with the Afghanistan squad in the UAE and was listed as the 14th man on the team sheets for their wins over Ireland and United Arab Emirates.
But, with a semi-final place assured heading into the day, Afghanistan made three changes to their XI to play Namibia including Mangal. It also helped that Namibia were already eliminated from a chance at making the semis, thus taking the edge off the intensity level for both sides.
Still, nobody wants to pull a Bradman and go for a duck in what could be their final innings, so the personal pressure remains high. Mangal, though, handled what could be his final moments in an Afghanistan uniform with a calmness befitting a figure who shepherded the national side through their many magical, mercurial and, at times, maddening moments in their ascent up Associate cricket.
"He played for Afghanistan for a long time and he was the captain," legspinner Rashid Khan said when reflecting on Mangal's place in Afghanistan cricket lore after the win over Namibia. "He did lots of good jobs for Afghanistan. He took the team to this level and he has passed all the hard work [on to us]. Now it's just really for the youngsters to come and play good."
When he first walked out to bat, there were only about 500 fans in the ground. But, in the fourth over, their enthusiasm matched that of a crowd five times as large, as Mangal swept, drove and cut Gerrie Snyman's offspin for three boundaries in the over. He may be about to leave after 14 years in international cricket, but Mangal showed he still has a little bit of fuel left in the tank. An even bigger cheer came in the next over when he smacked Jan Frylinck down the ground for six.
When he fell for 32, after being defeated in flight while charging Bernard Scholtz, he walked off to an ovation. He had set an excellent platform for Afghanistan in tandem with Mohammad Shahzad, adding 56 for the first wicket in an imposing total of 167 for 6. Three overs into the chase, Namibia were 7 for 4 and Rashid says the side's main source of motivation on this day - and the tournament as a whole - was to send Mangal out a winner.
"It's his last series," Rashid said. "He already did his retirement and this is his last series and after that he will be our chief selector. We guys all have to perform well to give him a good gift to retire well."
Even though eyes were on Mangal on this day mainly to see him bat, there was still time left for more cheers for the former captain. With the score at 80 for 6 after 16 overs, and the game well out of Namibia's hands, captain Asghar Stanikzai gave the crowd - which had swelled to 3000 people at this point - a reason to get up out of their seats when he called over Mangal to have a largely ceremonial bowl.
He gave up 11 runs in the 17th over, including a six that caused a delay to find the ball in an empty section of the stadium, but still received respectful applause at the end of the over. When the match ended, he showed his respect and appreciation for the fans, calling for his teammates to walk over and wave thank-yous for supporting what could be his last time as a player. The measure of respect for Mangal is still present in the change room and Rashid says the next generation is indebted to him.
"When I came to the national side, he has supported me a lot," Rashid said. "He has shared with me all the experience that he had from the last 14 years. So it was a good experience playing with him and we will miss him because he was supporting us in the ground, in the dressing room, out on the field. He was giving us all those suggestions and ideas which will better us in the future. We will miss him."