It was always likely to be Afghanistan and Oman in the Final, it was always likely to be a good, close match. Afghanistan may have won the ACC U-17 Challenge Cup Final by 42 runs at the RBSC Polo Grounds in Bangkok but should they ever meet Oman again that too will be another cracker of a match.
Games like this give credence to the concept of development. You can see the players having a future in cricket, you can see cricket having a future in their countries. Both teams not only came to Thailand to win this tournament, they came to play good cricket. Afghanistan and Oman between them have it all, excellent pace-bowling, quality spinners and dynamic batsmen with Afghanistan just having the edge in terms of fielding, shot-making and bowling discipline.
Oman had the upper hand when the teams met in the group stage at the start of the tournament, but that was a nervy encounter between both teams not quite at their best. The Final was different. Afghanistan lost a wicket in the second over thanks to a terrific direct hit from Nikhil Xavier in the infield but from then on Hashmatullah Shahidi in partnership with Said Abdullah and Raihan Khan took the game away from Oman.
Everyone in Thailand (those involved in cricket, that is) and pretty much everyone else who plays Afghanistan know that they are fallible against spin. So spin it was from both ends starting in the eighth over of the Afghan innings. Slow turn there was for Karan Pandya, Kshitij Daswal, Nikhil Xavier and Suneet Fernandes. Fast hands, quick feet there were from the Afghan batsmen. Scrambling for the crease on a regular basis they may have been, but pinching singles and keeping the scoreboard moving they were too. Hashmatullah had a close to unerring eye for finding the gap between the fielders and once he passed 50 (off 101 deliveries) he started to aim for the boundaries. And found them.
150 was the Afghan target at the start of the match, passing that in the 35th over, they started thinking for 200. 'Boom-boom' Afzal Khan was padded up and waiting to go in when the innings closed on 185.
|Afghanistan's Hashmatullah Sahidi|
In the 31 overs the Oman spinners bowled, 140 runs were scored for the loss of three Afghan wickets. In the nine overs the Oman pacemen bowled, 43 runs were scored for no Afghan loss. Afghanistan may not play as freely against spin as they do pace, but they don't play it badly. Everyone in Thailand (those involved in cricket, that is) and pretty much everyone else who plays Afghanistan now know that they are not so fallible against spin.
"It's a matter of preparation," says Kabir Khan the national coach, "in Afghanistan the conditions are not good for spin so there is no familiarity with it. One week of practice against it is enough and we are doing it now."
Oman fancied themselves to chase down 185, how could they not when they have batsmen of the calibre of Fernandes, Gaurav Honavar, Avinash Shekar all with decent scores in the tournament so far? But Afghanistan struck early – a run-out by Zia-ul-Rahman (the first of two by him) – and wicket-to-wicket full-length bowling gave Oman's batsmen no opportunity to play strokes and when they did give chances they were taken. Hashmatullah took two super catches, one a sharp chance at gully to dismiss Oman's Samir Al Balushi, the other at deep extra cover, running in to take a high swirler low down to get rid of Suneet Fernandes (36 off 69, 2 fours and a six) who just looked as if he could take Oman towards their target.
On a day filled with excellent strokes Fernandes had played the shots of the day, one a sublime on-drive to a ball from from Afzal Khan, the other, even better, a drive on the up through cover one ball later. Rod Marsh only needed one stroke by Marcus Trescothick to be convinced of his quality as a future England player, on the evidence of those two strokes Rod Marsh would also think Suneet Fernandes ready for greater prominence.
Fernandes is some player as are his team-mates. But Afghanistan just had more in the tank today, they had more depth, more ability, more desire. "All of the national team are our heroes," said Mohibullah Pak an Afghan squad-member who wasn't playing the Final, "we want to play in the Elite group, we want to play in the national team. In Afghanistan cricket is very hard, we play on mud, stones and concrete. When we play on a beautiful grass like this we just want to do well."
You could see how much defeat hurt the Omanis. Half the members of this squad had been ecstatic after victory on this ground in the U-15 Challenge Cup Final two years earlier and the difference between defeat and victory is why champions would much rather be winning. Oman’ll come back. Still, it was Afghanistan's day. It's been Afghanistan's season.
ACC U-17 Challenge Cup Final
Afghanistan v Oman at RBSC Polo, Bangkok
AFGHANISTAN WON BY 42 RUNS
Afghanistan won the toss and chose to bat
Afghanistan: 185 for 4 off 40 overs (H. Shahidi 89, R. Khan 54*)
Oman: 143 off 35.4 overs (S. Fernandes 35, S. Mehmood 36; S.Sahidi 3-28)
Man of the Match: Hashmatullah Shahidi (Afghanistan)
Pictures: Sacha Nathan / Cricket Association of Thailand
Filed November 23 2008