ACC Trophy Elite 2008
Afghanistan v UAE

If there was ever a good time for Afghanistan to face the ACC Trophy Elite champions UAE, it was today at the Bayuemas Oval, the day after UAE's 29-run defeat to Saudi Arabia. It had been the UAE's first ACC Trophy defeat in eight years. Afghanistan, the rising stars of world cricket, had a great chance to assert themselves in a match, which if they had won would have truly upset the Asian tournament cricket hierarchy.

Afghanistan came close, UAE even helped them, but in the end just that extra little bit of experience and match-savvy saw the UAE home by three wickets.

UAE batsmen Mohammed Tauqir (foreground) and Zahid Shah shared a 29-run partnership for the eight-wicket to see their side home

Batting first and at 173 for 3 in the 38th over, Afghanistan were in line for a score of 250 which, on a wicket which was helping the bowlers would have seriously tested the UAE. But then UAE's captain Khurram Khan had the impressive Noor Ali Noori caught and bowled and then just three runs later ran out Samiullah Shenwari. The wheels fell off the Afghanistan train, and Khurram with fellow spinners Shadeep Silva, Mohammad Tauqir and the impressive young Riaz Khalid set upon the remaining Afghan batsmen like perspiration on a humid day. In little more than ten overs Afghanistan lost seven wickets for just 41 runs.

Tauqir confirms his dismissal of Nabi

They know what to do in pretty much any situation, do the UAE such is their experience. Talent-wise Afghanistan are very close, but they have still to know how to win enough of the 50-50s in a match. Point in case: Mohammad Nabi after hitting a huge six over long-on, goes to repeat the shot only to find a fired-up Tauqir firing one in faster which castles him. Nabi had made 40 off 41 at that stage.

He had made batting look very easy, as had his captain Nowroz Mangal earlier. Opening the Afghan innings he played some terrific strokes on the up square of the wicket, dispatching the ball with clinical ferocity. He was run-out by a whisker by Riaz Khalid from mid-off in the 23rd over, "which stopped him getting 150" said the UAE manager Mazhar Khan.

Nowroz Mangal

Afghanistan's 214 was at least 30 runs below par. The way Mohammad Iqbal and Arshad Ali started the UAE reply it looked about 130 below par. Such crisp, powerful driving off the front foot - punch and timing from Arshad, through-the-line flamboyance from Iqbal - cannot have been seen at this ground for a long time. The Afghan opening bowlers were fast and found swing - Iqbal falling to a beauty from Daulat Ahmadzai which left him - but Arshad, then the left-handed Amjad Ali (Daulat did struggle with the left-hand right-hand combination) and then Saqib Ali played some terrific strokes against the pace and had the UAE scoring at over five an over throughout the first hour.

All day the wicket helped spinners who push it through all day and Amjad and Saqib both fell to deliveries which skidded through. WIth Saqib's dismissal UAE were 86 for 3 after 18 overs with the game in the balance. It was then that Afghanistan, while attacking as ever, made it too easy for the UAE batsmen Arshad and Khurram. A walkable single to long-off or long-on was always there for the taking and even though only one boundary was hit for 122 deliveries - while the UAE score went from 69 to 155 - the UAE were never under any pressure to keep up with the required run-rate. Khurram did give half a chance in hitting his six, the fielder on the midwicket boundary having the ball bounce out of his outstretched over the rope but he, like Arshad scotched any and all Afghan threats with their simple play-each-ball-on-its-merits philosophy.

Arshad Ali drives a Hamid Hassan delivery

The UAE throughout were under little pressure with their running; in contrast, the Afghans had to hustle for pretty much every run. With experience will come more adept field-placings but the Afghans have shown a different batting -style to previous tournaments. Here, they kept the ball along the ground and were happy to take ones and twos, as opposed to just being happy with fours and sixes.

The game was drifting away from Afghanistan and had it not been for one too languid drive by Khurram with the score on 168 in the 39th over, perhaps thinking the game was pretty much won already, Afghanistan were nowhere near to defending their 214. Khurram fell, then Shadeep Silva (run out as much by Arshad as Karim Sadiq), then Shoib Sarwar off a top-edged pull and suddenly at the start of the 44th over, UAE were six down with 27 still wanted. Two balls later, coming down the wicket, Arshad found the ball squeezing below his bat and knocking off the bails. Game on.

Arshad Ali falls for 68, Hamid Hassan celebrates

Afghanistan were doing what Pakistan used to do back in the day: not put up much of a score, then let the game drift away from them for all their bowlers' efforts only to find themselves suddenly roused with defeat staring them in the face and then going full-on for victory. Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram would see them home so many times on those occasions, today, as much as Karim Sadiq with his off-spin tried (after he'd kept wicket for the first 22 overs), Afghanistan couldn't quite get past Mohammad Tauqir. He came in with 38 wanted and simply played the right shots at the right times. His undefeated 24 off 14 deliveries took a nervy UAE home.

"We were at 60% today," said the UAE coach Vasbert Drakes afterwards, "there's still plenty for us to work on but it's a win against a good team and we can go forward from here." Afghanistan's coach Taj Malik felt his team had lost the game with their batting, "We were definitely looking to get 250-plus but somehow we could not manage it. Our team is the equal of the UAE in many ways and I think we are able to give them a good fight almost until the end." They still look a team which hasn't quite found its best line-up or tactical range. When they do, they will be able to seriously challenge even a UAE team at 100%.

Group A, ACC Trophy Elite

Afghanistan v UAE at Bayuemas Oval
Afghanistan won the toss and chose to bat
Afghanistan: 214 off 48.1 overs (N. Mangal 55, K. Sadiq 33, M. Nabi 40; R. Khalid 3-27)
UAE: 217 for 7 off 47.1 overs (K. Khan 42, M. Tauqir 24*; K. Sadiq 3-33)
Man of the Match: Arshad Ali (UAE)

Photos courtesy of Aric Tan

Filed July 26 2008