Future Looks Bright For Afghanistan After Another Win

Afghan batsmen punch gloves
Rahmat Shah and Mohammad Nasim Baras shared a crucial 122 for the seventh-wicket.
©ICC/Saleem Sanghati

Afghanistan 234 (Rahmat 144) & 70-2 beat
Kenya 162 & 140 by 8 wickets
ICC Intercontinental Cup Match, Dubai

Despite resting several of their first-choice players, having already qualified for the final, Afghanistan romped to victory inside three days over Kenya in their ICC Intercontinental Cup match.

There were some early problems - probably caused by fielding six debutants in match that began just two days after their success in securing qualification for the 2015 World Cup - as they closed day one on 69 for six after bowling Kenya out for 162, but Rahmat Shah hit a maiden century and they never looked back.

The win demonstrates just how much talent exists in Afghanistan as, even without star names such as Hamid Hassan, Mohammad Shahzad, Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shenwari and Nowroz Mangal, they managed a comfortable win over a fellow associate nation. The strong performance of this second-string side bodes well for if they are ever given a prolonged chance at competing against stronger opposition by the increasingly inward-looking Full Members of the ICC.

Seam-bowlers Sayed Shirzad and Yamin Ahmadzai were among the debutants that the Afghans fielded and each produced good performances.

19 year-old Shirzad took two wickets early in the Kenyan first innings as they slipped to 62 for seven after being asked to bat. Yamin Ahmadzai took the key middle-order wickets of Rakep Patel and Morris Ouma, while the more experienced Izatullah Dawalatzai also chipped in.

Where Afghanistan’s inexperience showed was arguably in allowing Kenya to recover to 162 and then struggling themselves initially in their reply. Nehemiah Odhiambo made 35, while Shem Ngoche (26) and Hiren Varaiya (35) also made useful contributions. The last two Kenyan wickets added 78 runs.

Ragheb Aga was then the architect of Afghanistan’s early struggles with the bat. He tore the heart out of their top-order en route to career-best figures of five for 46. However, Rahmat Shah, resuming day two on 24, added 122 with Mohammad Nasim Baras (32) for the seventh-wicket to take his side into the lead. They were eventually al out for 234, with Rahmat last man dismissed for a superb 144 of 284 balls.

Kenya, predictably and sadly, didn’t put up too much of a fight in their second innings and were all out for 140, again having bounced back from a worse position, this time thanks to a knock of 36 from Hiren Varaiya. Debutants Ahmadzai and Shirzad were again effective, taking three wickets each, while Dawlatzai and Nasim Baras took a brace apiece.

Whereas Afghanistan are very much on the up, Kenya’s journey in the opposite direction is arguably even steeper. From talk, after their strong showing in the 2003 World Cup, of Test status, they now appear on the brink of losing ODI status and all the ICC funding that goes with it. It will be a long road back.

Afghanistan, meanwhile, are into the final, where they will play cricket’s other rising star, Ireland, from 10th December in Dubai. Ireland have taken all of the headlines in recent years in terms of wins against Full Members, but it could be argued that Afghanistan are better placed for a shot at the big time in the long-term. They have a rapidly expanding fan and player base; hopefully an increasingly stable country; and cricket has little competition as the nation’s number one sport.

The past seven days surely represent the most important week to date in Afghan cricket history.

© Cricket World 2013