Afghanistan's strength in depth accounted for UAE in the group stage, when their last batsman hit 10 off the last two balls to get them a 1-wicket victory. In the ACC Twenty20 Final at Abu Dhabi, the fact that in Mohammad Nabi Afghanistan have a player who is good enough for any first-class side in Asia, showed that Afghan cricket is good enough to compete with the best in Asia. They absolutely destroyed the home side in a Final in which they came ready to win, from the moment their national anthem blared out across Sheikh Zayed Stadium, in front of 1000 of their loyal fans.
Nabi picked up the Man of the Match for an innings which swung the game irrevocably Afghanistan's way after some canny bowling by UAE had Afghanistan in some trouble at 63-4 in the 8th over. The Afghans don't play spin too well was the UAE game-plan and the way the top-order played, that looked to be true. But Nabi's a spinner himself and his fifth-wicket partner Raees Ahmadzai plays spin pretty well and together they rescued Afghanistan after just 20 runs came between overs 6 and 10 for the loss of two wickets. Ahmadzai fell for 12 but he had done the job in blunting the UAE attack and feeding Nabi the strike. Nabi was at his clean-hitting best, and raced to a 35-ball 50 with booming straight-driven fours and sixes and deft deflections behind the wicket.
Nabi was out with Afghanistan scoring at close to 10 an over, for 73 off 38 deliveries ( nine 4s and four 6s), and Sami Shinwari made an enterprising 29 off 14 straight after to take Afghanistan to 196.
Getting it would take some doing and though UAE were up with the rate for quite some time, they were losing wickets. Left-armer Shahpour Zadran bowled fast and straight, coming back into the team after a few erratic matches, and caused problems for the UAE batsmen throughout, as they found themselves just a little late on their strokes. He took three top-order wickets in his three overs and looked a real prospect for Afghanistan. This with the ever impressive Hamid Hassan waiting in the wings.
An aside: Karim Sadiq epitomises Afghan cricket, he takes catches like an acrobat, he bats like a billionaire throwing money to the winds, and bowls pretty good off-spin (today in white Oakleys, even though it was a cloudy day). In the field, Afghanistan were close to perfect and only UAE's captain Khurram Khan batted with any semblance of grace against them. He made 34 off just 18 deliveries before holing out to Noor Ali Noori at deep mid-wicket. With him, UAE's hopes faded, they were having to score at close to 12 an over when Mohammad Nabi came on, and in the space of nine deliveries took the last four UAE wickets.
Nabi finished as the tournament's leading wicket-taker, with 18 wickets in the competion at an average of 5.5. Occasionally he plays cricket for Customs in Pakistan, and this coming season will surely press on.
If these Afghan players can stick together and bring in players just as good if not better, then Afghan cricket has every chance of succeeding on the field. Afghanistan's cricketers succeed in spite of everything that stands against them inside and outside their country, it's what makes every triumph of theirs particularly special. Whether it lasts is up to how much these cricketers are supported.
"We have a chance of beating one or two big ODI nations, I sincerely feel that," says Raees Ahmadzai, "I hope we get the chance."
ACCTwenty20 Cup 2009
FINAL: UAE v Afghanistan at Sheikh Zayed
AFGHANISTAN WON BY 84 RUNS
Afghanistan won the toss and chose to bat
Afghanistan: 196 for 8 off 20 overs (M.Nabi 73; Moiz Shahid 2-36, M.Tauqir 3-29)
UAE: 112 off 14.3 overs (K.Khan 34, N.Aslam 37; S.Zadran 3-28, M.Nabi 4-7)
Man of the Match: Mohammad Nabi (Afghanistan)