Backed up by a drum-banging, raucous, hooting, whistling and cheering crowd of supporters, Afghanistan raced to an eight-wicket victory over Oman at the KOC Hubara ground in Kuwait, to put themselves in pole position for a semi-final spot in the ACC U-19 Elite Cup. "Oman are a good side but our batting and bowling is strong," said Man of the Match Iqbal Maliki who made 96 not out. Oman are a good side, but today Afghanistan were better by a huge margin. A margin influenced by the fact that all of the Afghans are hoping to win a place in the senior side soon - and thus play ODIs and four-day international cricket.

Afghanistan win at Hubara

With that kind of motivation Afghanistan were superior in bowling, batting and fielding and played a strong brand of percentage cricket. In the last ACC U-19 tournament Afghanistan were very one-dimensional - big hits, fast-bowling and hoping for the best. It wasn't good enough. This time, some of the same players are smarter, sharper, more sensible. They bowl wicket-to-wicket, keep the ball on the ground more often and play straight. "I love to play straight", says Noor ul Haq, after making an extremely sound 78 with close to immaculate shot selection.

Noor ul Haq

In the 2007 ACC U-19 Elite Cup Final he was stumped after making just 3 and would aim to whip a few balls to many through the leg-side. They call him 'The Rock' and he looks to have, if not a Hollywood career, certainly a career in top-flight cricket ahead of him now. All six of his other team-mates on display from 2007 have improved immensely. Spinners Aimal Wafa and Zakiullah Zaki hardly bowled a loose ball all day, nor did Noor ul Haq with his leg-breaks.

Gaurav Honavar doing what a captain should

Gaurav Honavar and Sufiyan Mehmood batted soundly for Oman too, repairing the Oman innings from 81 for 5 in the 31st over to put on 87 off 94 balls. They are two talented left-handers and really did well but they were always having to work hard for their runs. Honavar, small, punchy and compact and Mehmood, tall and a sweet-timer of the ball combatted Afghanistan's bowlers well but there was never anything like an easy two for the pair, Afghanistan's fielders were fast to the ball and always threatening a run-out. The two played very straight themselves, in a way they had to, the Afghans kept the ball right up to the Oman batsmen and with just a little hint of turn for the slow-bowlers, the batsmen couldn't play with any freedom. Mehmood reached his 50 in the 49th over with a sweet six over long-on but when he was out next ball, and with the innings folding just four balls later for 188, Oman knew they probably hadn't done enough.

On any wicket, you've got to hold your catches but on this one at Hubara ("a great wicket for batting" said Honavar afterwards) you've definitely got to take them. Oman dropped four and their ground-fielding was way below their usual standard. The Afghan openers Iqbal Maliki and Noor ul Haq didn't mind, they had the game wrapped up by the time Haq fell to a tired shot after making 79 (113 balls, 10 fours and 1 six) with the Afghans on 157 at the start of the 37th over. The pair hadn't really gone after anything but the bad balls, driving the ball into the gaps at every opportunity.

Man of the Afghan Maliki with (from l to r) Match Referee Roquibul Hassan, And Kuwait Cricket Yousuf Bash and Asad Baig

The Afghan U-19s have grown up.

2008 ACC U-19 Elite Cup
Afghanistan v Oman at Hubara
Oman won the toss and chose to bat
Oman: 188 off 49.3 overs (G.Honavar 70, S.Mehmood 70; A.Wafa 3-45)
Afghanistan: 194 for 2 off 45.4 overs (I.Maliki 86, N.ul Haq 79)
Man of the Match: Iqbal Maliki (Afghanistan)


ACC U-19 Elite Cup 2009

Filed April 23, 2009