By Richard Lockwood

United Arab Emirates made the much heralded Afghanistan side fight all the way in the ACC U-16 Challenge Cup match played at Gymkhana Club in Chiang Mai but the Afghans finally gained victory by two wickets after needing just 111 to win.

The most eagerly anticipated match of the tournament so far saw two unbeaten teams go head to head. Both Afghanistan and UAE had won their first two contests and the winners of today's game would be well on the way to qualifying for the ACC Elite Division. Afghanistan were favourites but UAE were expected to provide a stern test and showed great confidence in their own ability when they chose to bat first.

Naween-ul-Haq raced in to bowl the first over with eight wickets for 10 runs to his name in the tournament but Salman Raza who had scored 50s in both matches so far was up to the task and cut his second ball for four. Shafiullah Mohammad had taken six wickets against Maldives in the previous match and also charged in to bowl with real pace. A real contest at last.

UAE's openers Salman Raza and Shiv Mehra faced a tough examination from the two Afghan fast bowlers but they proved up to the test, not afraid to come forward even if it meant taking blows on the body. Appeals for lbw were a regular feature as Afghanistan searched for their first breakthrough. Shiv Mehra produced a pull for four and a pair of twos as the bowling and fielding began to look ragged.

Shafiullah Mohammad regained control with a disciplined maiden but Shiv Mehra continued to go for his shots as he drove Naween-ul-Haq through the covers for a lovely boundary. Afghanistan finally claimed their first wicket from the last ball of the mandatory powerplay as Salman Raza played an ambitious drive only to be bowled by Safiullah.

Spin was introduced in the ninth over with Tariq Khan bowling slow left-arm and the bowling powerplay was taken in the next over. Shafiullah Mohammad claimed his second wicket when Karthik Shekar was caught at mid on by Imran Khan. UAE's position was suddenly looking more precarious after 10 overs with the score on 35 for two.

Afghan captain Javed Ahmadzai brought himself into the attack to bowl his off-spin but was pulled for four by Shiv Mehra who had been joined by left-handed Ritik Bagchi. UAE’s keeper didn't last long as he was caught behind to give Shafiullah his third wicket.

The captain's spell lasted only one over before Tariq Khan was re-introduced and almost claimed Shiv Mehra lbw with a faster ball. UAE now faced spin at both ends after Shafiullah Mohammad was taken off with figures of 3 for 11. The fifty came up in the 13th over courtesy of five wides from Shamsur Rahman. A ten ball over conceded 12 runs to boost UAE's total as they reached 63 for 3 at the end of the first hour's play.

The spinners bowled several no balls but only one of the free hits was put away to the boundary. Javed Ahmadzai changed ends but Shiv Mehra was still batting with confidence as he hit the Afghan captain for a pair of boundaries. Wickets continued to fall at the other end as Waruna Kalhara was bowled by Tariq Khan and Bilal Passela soon followed brilliantly caught at slip by Shafiullah Mohammad to reduce UAE to 73 for 5 in the 17th over.

Afghanistan's Imran Khan was given a bowl and he proved to be another left-arm spinner but he was only allowed a single over as the Afghan captain juggled his bowlers with good imagination. The score was 88 for 5 at the halfway stage of the innings.

UAE number seven Abdulla Saif, one of the local Arab players, showed plenty of promise by hitting three fours in a bright and breezy 15 before he fell to a catch on the mid-wicket boundary off Javed Ahmadzai and Abey Vannilathil soon followed dismissed lbw to give Tariq Khan his third wicket and UAE were in trouble at 95 for 7.

UAE's eighth wicket fell with the score on 98 as Tariq Khan finished an excellent spell of slow left-arm by dismissing Bikramjeet Singh caught and bowled with his last ball to finish with figures of 8-3-12-4.

UAE's 100 came up in the 26th over with opener Shiv Mehra still at the crease and approaching what would be a well-deserved fifty. Khaled Nasser, another local player, was swinging his bat lustily against the spinners, but it was only be a matter of time before a fast bowler was brought back.

Naween-ul-Haq duly came back to bowl the 29th over and Shiv Mehra showed great common sense in trying to face as much of the over as possible by taking a single only off the fourth ball. Khaled Nasser brought back memories of a former UAE captain facing Allan Donald in the World Cup but he survived the last two balls of the over.

Ironically the tail-ender then missed an attempted slog against Javed Ahmadzai to be stumped. Nine wickets down and number 11 Hammad Karim facing with two balls to come. A block but then a swipe and he was bowled by the last ball of the 30th over. Shiv Mehra was left stranded on 49, his first 39 taking 40 balls, his last 10 runs 30 balls more, and UAE were bowled out for 110.

Shiv Mehra faced 77 balls and hit six fours and he could be rightly proud of his innings. Shafiullah Mohammad made the early breaktroughs with 3 for 11, Tariq Khan claimed four for 12 in the middle of the innings and Javed Ahmadzai finished off the tail but Mehra saw them all off. A total of 110 may not be enough against a batting side who have passed 300 in their two previous matches.

Afghanistan began their reply after a 10 minute break between innings and may look to finish the match off as quickly as possible. Javed Ahmadzai had made 161 in his last innings at Gymkhana and he promptly hit the first ball of the innings for four. He and his opening partner Abdul Sabor already had two century partnership in the tournament. Could they produce a third against UAE?

UAE's opening bowlers were a far harder proposition than Afghanistan had faced so far and Waruna Kalhara was the man to gain an early breakthrough when he dismissed Abdul Akhundzada caught behind as the first wicket fell with the score on 15.

UAE suddenly sensed they still had a chance to win this match, all the more so once that the tall and pacy Bikramjeet Singh induced a rash shot from number three Parvis Khan which saw him caught at cover. 16 for 2 in the 6th over. The pressure was now on Afghanistan for the first time in the tournament.

Another wicket before lunch would really put this match in the balance as left-handed Tariq Khan joined his captain at the crease. The opening bowlers continued to charge in and the excitement was mounting in the field. The new batsman almost holed out to mid on and then hooked a bouncer from Bikramjeet to the boundary as temperatures were rising as the interval approached. At lunch Afghanistan were 27 for 2 after 9 overs requiring a further 84 runs to win.

Bikramjeet Singh bowled the first over after lunch as UAE took the bowling powerplay and he took the important wicket of Javed Ahmadzai who misjudged a pull shot to be caught on the square leg boundary. 27 for 3. How would Afghanistan respond?

Worse was to follow for Afghanistan as they lost their fourth wicket with the score on 35 as Bikramjeet took the third wicket of an inspired spell as Tariq Khan was caught behind. Sayed Hakim and Imran Khan were now at the crease and they would need to rebuild the innings.

Imran Khan had earlier bowled one over of left-arm spin but he is also a tall left-handed batsman and he got off the mark with an elegant drive for four through mid-off against the leg spin of Karthik Shekar. Bikramjeet had now finished his seventh over so had only one left to bowl.

Afghanistan's fifty came up from the first ball of the 15th over as Bilal Passela was introduced into the attack and Sayed Hakim showed his liking for gentle spin by hitting two fours. 11 runs off the over and the pressure had suddenly eased. Waruna Kalahara replaced Bikramjeet and Afghanistan now needed less than 50 to win with six wickets in hand.

Shiv Mehra was now asked to bowl. Having already carried his bat in UAE's innings, he now needed to find a wicket or two with his left-arm spin if his side was to have any chance. There was still some life in the pitch as Waruna Kalhara made two balls bounce awkwardly against Sayed Hakim but Imran Khan then crunched one through extra-cover. 38 more runs to win.

No more than half chances for UAE as Sayed Hakim and Imran Khan were not afraid to hit the ball in the air when facing Mehra's spin. They were looking more cautious against the pace of Waruna Kalhara until Hakim had a wild swing and was lbw for 23. 81 for five after 20 overs. 30 more required.

UAE refused to give up in this match and Imran Khan was bowled by Shiv Mehra for 20. Despite scoring more than 300 in their first two matches, Afghanistan's batting was looking vulnerable. 83 for 6 with two new men at the crease.

Waruna Kalhara was the first to finish his spell, after taking two for 28 in his 8 overs, then Shafiullah Khan hit two fours in an over from Shiv Mehra. Ibrahim Zadran was not so lucky and was out caught and bowled as Mehra claimed his second wicket. 95 for 7 after 23 overs.

Bikramjeet Singh came back to bowl his last over, still charging in as he made one final effort. Safiullah Mohammad edged to third man for two, then slapped to extra-cover for three but one short was called. 100 for 7 after 24 overs, Bikramjeet's figures 3 for 26. 11 more to win.

This match could still go either way as Shamsurahman came down the wicket to Shiv Mehra only to be stumped. 100 for 8.

UAE's captain Karthik Shekar brought himself on to bowl his leg spin. He had the chance to bowl at the number 10 batsman but Ajmal Kamawal was up to the challenge as he hit him to the mid-on boundary. 107 for 8. Only four runs to win.

Shiv Mehra to bowl what could be the last over. Shafiullah slashed to third man for two and hit a boundary over cover to bring Afghanistan victory by two wickets in the most exciting match of the tournament.

Afghanistan had been pushed to the limited by United Arab Emirates but they had seen of the challenge to gain their third victory of the tournament. A few more runs for UAE might have made all the difference.

ACC U-16 Challenge Cup 2012

Day 4: Afghanistan v UAE at Chiang Mai Gymkhana
UAE won the toss and chose to bat
UAE: 110 all out off 30 overs (S.Mehra 49*; S.Mohammad 3-11, T.Khan 4-12, J.Ahmadzai 3-32)
Afghanistan: 113 for 8 off 26.3 overs (B.Singh 3-26, S.Mehra 3-26)
Man of the Match: Shafiullah Mohammad (Afghanistan)

Tournament page

Filed March 6th, 2012