World Cup Qualifier wrap: Afghan dreams begin to fade


Offering further evidence that this tournament is wide open and the gaps in class between Associate nations are narrowing all the time, Hong Kong opened their account with a thoroughly merited victory from their second match.

For Afghanistan, however, pre-tournament darlings, boasting the most deadly limited-overs bowler in the world and coming into the competition in sparkling form, a third defeat on the bounce sees their dreams of a World Cup appearance in England in 2019 fading by the day.

The good news for a beleaguered outfit – and how Afghanistan need it after losing Mohammad Shahzad before the match, suspended for two games after accumulating four demerit points across a 24-month period – is that there is still a way to scrape through to the Super Six stage, kicking off on March 15.

Much will need to go their way though. Nepal will need to beat Hong Kong, and then both of Nepal and Hong Kong will need to lose all their remaining games, while Afghanistan will need to beat Nepal handsomely; such eventualities would result in all three teams being locked on a win apiece, and then it all comes down to net run rate.

That is for another day. This Hong Kong victory may have hinged on a classy knock from Anshy Rath and some supremely tight bowling from the off-break bowler Ehsan Khan, but this was a team effort. Electric in the field, Ehsan Nawaz’s superb run out from third man of the dangerous Mohammad Nabi encapsulated their athleticism and commitment. They are a danger team in this tournament.


The left-handed Rath – Hong Kong-born, Harrow School-educated, Middlesex second XI player – is, at 20, already making a name for himself, averaging north of 50 in ODIs and 65 in first-class cricket, and here he dominated the HK innings, compiling a 90-ball 65 before falling lbw to Mujeeb Ur Rahman in the 42nd over.

Rath’s knock, on a sluggish surface, was the standout innings of the match but he received good support throughout the HK innings, with useful contributions all the way down the card, after a rocky start had seen them lose three wickets for 43. Rashid Khan, for his part, was treated with respect but not deference, and he went wicketless across his 10 overs, with Rath in particular playing him with relative ease.

At halfway it felt like a formidable total, and Afghanistan’s stuttering reply confirmed it. After a promising start, rattling along to 56/1 in the 16th, Ehsan Khan got to work, bowling Rahmat Shah and then removing Ihsanullah – both of whom had made decent starts – to change the whole complexion of the run-chase. Thereafter the result felt inevitable.

The end of this match was in keeping with much of Afghanistan’s truncated, stop-start campaign so far. They were always behind the rate, and when a doughty fifth-wicket stand between Nabi and Najibullah Zadran was brought to an end to leave them tottering at 132/5, the last rites were about to be administered.

But not quite; 42 balls from the close, the rains came. Afghanistan were 169/7 and way off the DLS par-figure of 202. Such was the downpour’s ferocity that it looked like the game would end there, but when the skies cleared and the covers came off, a revised equation of 59 from 18 balls was set.

Rashid Khan, the teenage stand-in captain, was duly out immediately after the resumption, and though Afghanistan were never in the hunt to win the game, they kept swinging in the knowledge that run rate could still be crucial in the final shakedown. A 30-run DLS defeat, in the gloom. It rather summed up their tournament so far.

A five-for for Rohan Mustafa and a half-century from Chirag Suri led United Arab Emirates to a comfortable six-wicket win over the Netherlands to boost their hopes at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018.

UAE responded to losing the toss and being told to field with an excellent team performance, Rohan Mustafa picking up 5/26 to headline an impressive bowling display. The Netherlands will be disappointed to have been bowled out for just 176 especially after Wesley Barresi and Max O’Dowd got off to a promising start. The pair added 52 runs for the opening wicket in a shade over 10 overs before the latter became Mustafa’s first victim, lbw for 12.

Two run outs followed to dent Netherlands further. A horrible miscommunication ended Ben Cooper’s innings on 1, while Barresi was also found short of his crease by Chirag Suri for 37 as the Netherlands slipped to 67/3 in the 16th over. That soon became 82/4 with Mustafa accounting for his opposite number Peter Borren for 8.

Ryan ten Doeschate and Roelof van der Merwe put together a 33-run stand for the fifth wicket, but with the surface aiding spin, the Netherlands found scoring difficult. It got worse as ten Doeschate, trying to break the shackles, went down the wicket to Ahmed Raza but only sent it as far as Amir Hayat at long-off to depat for 34.

Van der Merwe soon followed suit, bowled by Mustafa for 17 with the scoreboard reading 138/6. It was a swift end after that with Mustafa claiming the last two wickets as the Netherlands were unable to bat their full quota of overs.

UAE didn’t have everything their own way during their pursuit of 177, at one point losing three wickets for the addition of just 14 runs to leave them 84/4, opener Chirag Suri and wicket-keeper Ghulam Shabber having added 57 for the second wicket to help UAE steady the ship after the early loss of Mustafa to Timm van der Gugten for 11.

Paul van Meekeren, van der Merwe and Pieter Seelar then each claimed a wicket to stir Dutch hopes of a comeback. Shabber was bowled attempting a scoop, Rameez Shahzad chipped one back to Seelar, before van Meekeren brought one back into strike Shaiman Anwar on the pads to leave UAE in a bit of trouble.

But Suri and Muhammad Usman calmed UAE’s nerves, through their match-winning unbeaten stand of 93, the former finishing on 78, just three short of his List A best.

The result leaves the Netherlands with two losses in their opening two games, meaning they face an uphill struggle to qualify for the Super Sixes. Their campaign continues against Papua New Guinea on Saturday 10 March.

Meanwhile UAE, with two wins and a loss so far, are well placed to qualify for the next stage. Their next game comes against Ireland, so far unbeaten, on Monday 12 March.

Scotland made it three wins from three in Group B and guaranteed their spot in the Super Sixes after an impressive all-round bowling display and unbeaten 88 from captain Kyle Coetzer inspired a four-wicket victory over Nepal, who are still waiting for their first win the tournament.

At 71/1 in pursuit of Nepal’s 149 all out, Scotland appeared to be cruising. But a mini-collapse of five wickets for 51 runs ensured an exciting finish at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, with Coetzer emerging the hero.

The Scots made an electric start to the match after Nepal’s captain Paras Khadka won the toss and elected to field first under bright skies, taking four wickets inside the first five overs with just 14 runs on the board.

Safyaan Sharif struck with his first ball of the morning, cleaning up Gyanendra Malla for 1, before Stuart Whittingham (3/35) got in on the act, trapping Dilip Nath lbw for 1 and then accounting for Dipendra Singh Airee (1) and Sharad Vesawkar (0) with the first two deliveries of his third over.

When Aarif Sheikh edged behind to Matthew Cross off the bowling of Richie Berrington, Nepal found themselves 39/5, staring down the barrel at a humiliating total. It was left to Khadka to restore some respectability with a measured 75-ball 63, becoming the first Nepali batsman to pass 1,000 List A runs in the process.

Khadka found an able ally in Sompal Kami (18), and the duo put on 42 for the sixth wicket before a superb collect and throw from Berrington ended the latter’s innings. Nepal’s captain was next to go, undone by the off-spin of Tom Sole for 63 with the scoreboard reading 100/7.

Basant Regmi (24* from 51) showed some spirited resistance from No.9 but Alasdair Evans (2/24) wrapped up Nepal’s innings in 46.3 overs, leaving Scotland chasing 150 for victory.

Coetzer and Cross made a sedate start in reply, reaching 33 in the 10th over before the young leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane made the breakthrough with his third delivery. A clever piece of bowling found Cross’ edge, with Khadka doing the rest at slip.

Calum MacLeod, bursting with confidence after his match-winning century against Afghanistan in Scotland’s first match of the tournament, looked composed on his way to 15 from 22 balls but was bowled by Regmi with the score on 72 to spark a collapse, as Berrington – lbw to the impressive Lamichhane (2/31) – and George Munsey – bowled by Lalit Rajbanshi – fell in quick succession.

In partnership with Coetzer, Craig Wallace (17) was inching Scotland to victory but he fell in Dependra Singh Airee’s first over, caught behind by Dilip Nath, and soon after Regmi found Mark Watt’s edge as Nepal ramped up the pressure.

The Scots required 28 more runs for victory with four wickets remaining and needed to hold their nerve. Thankfully for them their experienced captain was still at the crease, and Coetzer judged the situation perfectly, taking any singles that were on offer while continuing to hit anything loose to the boundary.

The 33-year-old finished the job in style, hitting Airee for six to complete the victory with 8.3 overs to spare.

A classy captain’s hand from Jason Holder ensured the West Indies go into the weekend with two wins from two, after a hard-fought and at times nervy victory over a spirited Papua New Guinea. At one stage a monumental upset seemed to be on the cards, but from the precariousness of 58/4 chasing PNG’s 200, Holder and his resolute No.3 Shai Hope took the West Indies home with 46 balls and six wickets to spare.

The final scorecard belied the twitchiness of the chase. Both the openers, Evin Lewis and Shimron Hetmyar, fell for single figures, before Marlon Samuels, for a breezy 24, and Jason Mohammed for a duck, followed soon after.

Faced with a sluggish pitch in oppressively muggy heat against a nagging PNG attack, it took all of Holder’s class, and Hope’s guts, as he battled physical fatigue to support his more expansive skipper, to see the favourites home.

While both batsmen finished up frustratingly shy of personal milestones, with Holder perhaps the most peeved to come up just one run short of what would have been a maiden limited-overs century, the cool way they repaired the innings is a positive sign of what’s to come.

With Hetmyer and Chris Gayle – who missed today’s match but is expected to return at the weekend – registering hundreds against UAE in the first game, the Windies batting unit appears to be peaking at just the right time.

Yet despite the relative comfort of the final few overs as victory appeared assured, this was another closely-contested affair that once again demonstrated the quality of teams on show. Earlier in the piece, a half-century from Assad Vala gave Papua New Guinea a promising base and Norman Vanua added an impudent finish, but Carlos Brathwaite was on point with the ball, the Windies paceman’s five-wicket haul restricting PNG to 200 from their 42.4 overs.

Brathwaite conceded just 27 runs in his 10 overs – 13 of which came in his last over – to further enhance his credentials as a limited-overs all-rounder of the highest class.

Choosing to bat, PNG got off to a nightmare start, losing Vagi Morea to a run out – Holder’s day starting as it would go on – from the third ball of their innings. Thereafter, Tony Ura, who brought up a hundred against Ireland in the previous match, settled in with Vala, the duo seeing off the first 10 overs with few hiccups.

Ura was the aggressor. He shook off the effects of being struck on the head to slam a couple of sixes down the ground and over the mid-wicket region as Ashley Nurse was welcomed into the attack with his first over going for 13 runs. Nurse, however, got the breakthrough in his next over, as Ura was sent back for a 45-ball 37. That started a mini slide, engineered by Brathwaite, as PNG slipped to 82/4.

Vala was still there, however, and he duly shared an enterprising 69-run stand with Mahuru Dai, before Dai’s breezy 35 was cut short by Miller’s arm ball. The dismissal, closely followed by Vala himself for an 89-ball 57, precipitated a collapse that saw PNG sink from 151/4 to 163/9.

The collapse threatened to undo all Vala’s good work, but with nothing to lose, the last-wicket pair of Vanua and Alei Nao hit out to take the total to 200. Vanua, who survived a dropped catch, made a 22-ball 35, which included three sixes and two fours.

If it wasn’t for Holder’s strength, both physically and in the mind, the 26-year-old launching four sixes and nine fours from his 101 balls, PNG’s total may well have been enough. In the final analysis, it’s the Windies who march on, while PNG have now lost all three of their fixtures so far.