Afghanistan's coach Taj Malik (in red cap) celebrates with his team

Afghanistan played remarkably disciplined, and some would say uncharacteristic, cricket to beat Malaysia by four wickets in the opening match of the ACC U-19 Elite Cup at the Kinrara Oval.

"We played a very different game to normal," said Afghanistan's coach Taj Malik "because we wanted to show other teams that we are not just big-hitters and fast bowlers."

Clouds were still hanging heavy following overnight rain when Malaysia's captain Ahmed Faiz chose to bat. "We were hoping for at least 200," said their coach, Shahidul Alam, "with 250 a possibility." From the start, however, Afghanistan's bowlers did not allow Malaysia's batsmen to settle. Izatullah Khan was erratic, bowling seven wides in his first three overs but when he was on target, he had the batsmen in all sorts of trouble. Mohammed Norwira, a Ganguly-esque left-hander looked the pick of Malaysia's top-order but his 42 ball innings was eventually ended by a smart slip-catch by Sajed Khan off the bustling Asghar Hussain.

Afghanistan's Obaidullah Kunari bowls to Malaysia's Aminuddin Ramly

The Afghan bowlers especially left-arm spinner Aimal Wafa (2-23 off his ten overs) never gave Malaysia's batsmen any free hits (eight no-balls aside) and had it not been for a gutsy 32* by Suharril Fetri coming at 7, Malaysia wouldn't have passed 100. Only one other batsmen reached double figures, and Extras were second highest score with 30. Malaysia were all out for 122 in the 42nd over.

Afghanistan's carelessness in the field with their 18 wides was not repeated when they went out to bat. Sajed Khan took 14 (2 fours and a six) from Sarath Ananthasivam's first over, but around him the other batsmen were very circumspect. Malaysia's bowlers and fielders didn't make it easy for Afghanistan at all, and had it not been for the occasional gift of a 'four-ball', Malaysia would have been able to build some serious pressure on Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's Sajed Khan

A couple of half-chances were missed but as long as the spinners Nik Azril and Mohammed Shahrunizam were in tandem, Afghanistan's batsmen weren't able to impose themselves. Azril, short and stocky, reeled off 4 consecutive maidens, three of them to the hapless Shabir Noori who never dared to risk anything to get the ball away.He took 28 deliveries to get off the mark.

Afghanistan simply nudged and nurdled themselves towards their target, knowing that the occasional bad ball would inevitably come. Not many, but enough, did. It was a most un-Afghan-like performance but one that showed how they have matured as a team. With victory in sight, wickets did fall, Noor ul Haq fell for 34 as he went looking for the big one as did Murad Ali and the breezy Aimal Wafa, who fell looking for his second six right after he tied the scores with one.

Malaysia's batsmen let their bowlers down but they certainly have an attack which will test their opponents. As for Afghanistan, their coach was, as ever, upbeat. "One day we can beat Australia at this level."

ACC U-19 Elite Cup
Group B
Malaysia v Afghanistan
Malaysia won the toss and chose to bat
Malaysia: 122 off 41.2 overs (S. Fetri 32*; S. Shirzai 3-19)
Afghanistan: 126 for 6 after 41.5 overs (S. Khan 34, N ul-Haq 34)


Filed August 20 2007