Afghanistan won a high-class semi-final with UAE by 40 runs to put themselves into the final of the ACC U-19 Elite Cup. There they will meet Nepal.

Afghanistan were indebted to Sajed Khan and Obaidullah Kunari for their total off 255, their 126-run partnership for the third wicket took just 121 deliveries as they recovered from a slow start. Afghanistan were also indebted to the UAE fielders.

Taj Malik carries the flag for his team

Six dropped catches, five off Kunari's bat and one, perhaps the most significant, off Aman Ali in the third over where the ball climbing off a length, took the shoulder of  Sajed's bat and went through the upraised hands of  UAE captain Ahmad Raza at slip. Kunari made runs as is his wont, but it was Sajed's innings that was the difference between the sides. He played cleverly, feeding the strike to Kunari, dinking runs and punishing anything loose. "He played perfect. Very good. It was our plan and he did it," said Taj Malik, Afghanistan's coach.

Obaidullah Kunari connects Again And again...
...until Aman Ali sends his leg-stump flying

Kunari wasn't quite as free as in other innings in this tournament, not quite timing the ball as sweetly, nevertheless his 76 came off 67 deliveries (seven 4s and three 6s). He offered five chances, all eminently catchable and had any of them been taken then Afghanistan would not have made 255. The batsmen following Kunari and Sajed, (Sajed falling to a full-delivery from Owais Hameed, sweeping) couldn't impose themselves in the same manner and from 210 for 3 in the 42nd over, with 270-280 in sight, Afghanistamn rather lost their way, being all out before the allotted 50 overs.

Umpire Rananwat raises his finger and Aashish Dhingra falls. Afghanistan get their first wicket.

Kuwait in the previous group match showed that for all their bowling firepower, Afghanistan's bowlers could be scored off at a fair clip and after Arjun Lamba, having seen his opening partner Aashish Dhingra fall lbw to Izatullah Khan came together with Mehtab Ali, they put on 99 in just 97 deliveries. Lamba not afraid to hit on the up, not afraid to hit over the top had a terrific duel with Kunari, Izatullah and Asghar Hussain. His 70 off 75 was a little streaky at times but he timed the ball sweetly.

Arjun Lamba

Afghanistan's pace trio showed that they weren't just speed merchants, cleverly mixing up their angles and pace as they strove to break the threatening partnership. The breakthrough came, as it so often has, thanks to Sajed Khan's leg-breaks. He just makes things happen. His first ball, short, was pulled by Mehtab into and out of the hands of Sher Sherzai. His second ball, worked away to deep-square by Mehtab produced a run-out as Asghar Hussain through hard and flat into Noor ul-Haq's gloves to have Mehtab out by inches.

Ahmad Raza hit... hit... ..hit..


...and hit... ...until Mohamad Khalid caught him head-high, inches from the backward point-boundary

Big momentum-sapping wicket and with Rohan Mustafa miscuing to cover off Sajed and Lamba and Owais Hameed falling soon after, the thrust of UAE's run chase was dissipated. The late batsmen hit about them under the ever-darkenign skies but with the run-rate creeping up all the time, UAE were always going to come up short. A spirited chase, and one that put Afghanistan under some pressure. Had UAE's fielders been able to do their job, the result could have gone either way.

"We played very good cricket. Not our best cricket but very good," said Taj Malik afterwards, having sprinted on to the field with the Afghan flag in his joy on winning the match. The Afghan manager, a man of fewer words and shorter legs, simply kissed the turf in gratitude.

It's going to be a cracker of a Final.

Semi-Final 2
Afghanistan v UAE at Kinrara Oval
Afghanistan won the toss and elected to bat
Afghanistan: 255 all out after 49.3 overs (S. Khan 82, O. Kunari 76; O. Hameed 6-58)
UAE: 215 all out after 47.2 overs (A. Lamba 73, M. Ali 36; I. Khan 4-28, S. Khan 3-34)
Man of the Match: Sajed Khan (Afghanistan)


Filed August 27 2007