Cricket Captain 2018: Afghan Ascending!

Following our seismic victory against India on Test debut, we entertained Ireland for a limited overs only tour. We were ruthless against our old Associate adversaries, winning both series.

We claimed the T20I series 2-1, only losing when having already assumed an unassailable 2-0 lead. A magnificent undefeated partnership of 171 between Noor Ali Zadran (80*) and Najibullah Zadaran (85*) helped us recover from 4-2 to win the first match. Right-arm-quick Yamin Ahmedzai’s 5-29 led the way in the second.

We then emphatically won the ODI series 3-0. The scintillating form of our opening batsmen, Mohammad Shahzad and Usman Ghani, laid the foundations for our victory. The pair compiled partnerships of 109, 166 and 84 in the three matches. Ex-England duo Ed Joyce (107) and Boyd Rankin (7-46) could consider themselves extremely unfortunate to be on the losing side in the first match of the series. In the second, the record-breaking 166-run partnership between Shahzad (116) and Ghani (93) more than laid the foundations for a successful chase of 289. In the third match, part-time spin bowler Rahmat Shah claimed figures of 4-14 whilst Ghani (80) continued his strong ODI form after a disappointing T20I series to seal an emphatic whitewash. He has though thrown his wicket away on more than one occasion when a hundred looked on the cards.

Then came another great Test match, our first at home. The easy option would’ve been to select the XI that downed India but given the time that had elapsed since that glorious occasion and taking player form and conditions into consideration, we bravely made four changes. Najibullah Zadran and Hamza Hotak were dropped altogether, a decision based primarily on poor domestic form. Mohammad Nabi, who performed well with the ball in the white-ball matches but had been playing almost exclusively T20 cricket and Dawlat Zadran, who made a vital 53 against India, made the squad but not the playing XI. Without a club, Zadran may struggle to represent Afghanistan again.

Twenty-year-old batsman Nasir Shah beat off lots of competition for a middle order berth. Knocks of 234 and 84 in the most recent round of First Class matches cementing his place. Karim Janat, who performed well with the ball in the limited overs matches combined with scoring 126 in his last domestic match also debuted. Yamin Ahmadzai was rewarded for his five-wicket haul in a T20I and consistent threat with a Test debut at the expense of Zadran. Eighteen-year-old spin sensation Qais Ahmad held off more experienced internationals for the sole spin bowling spot. Rashid Khan failed to make the squad and still awaits a Test cap.

Having won the toss, we chose to bat but stumbled early on and at 276-7 the innings could’ve petered out.

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A breakdown of Haji Murad’s Test best innings of 96 in our first innings. As the above graphic demonstrates, the wicketkeeper cut well and scored heavily on the leg-side in front of square.

Heroically, Haji Murad (96) found support from the lower order to lift the team to 398 all out. Yamin Ahmadzai (37) and Fareed Ahmad (28) provided excellent support. Wicketkeeper Murad, who performed so well against India, was cruelly denied a maiden Test century courtesy of an outstanding catch from Peter Chase. What the lanky quick was doing positioned at short leg is anybody’s guess but he held a stunning catch. The tireless Chase also stuck at his main task to finish with exhaustive figures of 4-157.

Ireland then reached 53 without loss before capitulating to 208-9. It should be noted that after suffering the dejection of so narrowly missing out on a Test century, gloveman Murad snaffled an outstanding leg-side catch to make the breakthrough when Ireland were going strong. Andy McBrine (50 not out) and Craig Young (27 not out) bookended the innings with another 53-run partnership to revive the tourists. Young was forced to retire hurt however so as was the case in our first Test against India, the opposition found themselves a bowler light for our second innings of the match. I hope that sceptics won’t point to Young’s misfortune as pivotal. We gained a 137-run lead on first innings after all.

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Debutant Karim Janat claimed the prize scalp of Irish veteran Ed Joyce with his first ball in Test cricket. Janat would fully justify his selection in the Test side with a strong all-round showing.

Absurdly, Karim Janat and Usman Ghani both claimed wickets with their first deliveries in Test cricket. Nasir Khan claimed one with his third and the part-timer went onto claim excellent figures of 3-25 to lift his confidence having only made 13 batting at four in the first innings. Qais Ahmad also didn’t have long to wait for his first Test wicket, striking after only a few overs.

We then posted 291-8 declared in our second innings. Messrs Shahzad (49) and Ghani (51) maintained their outstanding combo with an opening stand of 88.

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Debutant Nasir Khan’s measured knock of 72, dominant on the off-side, in our second innings helped put us firmly in the driving seat before a rush of blood to the head saw him frustratingly throw his wicket away!

Young Khan made 72 and looked destined for a debut ton but was rather foolishly stumped for 72. We lost a few wickets unnecessarily in the limited overs matches and need to eradicate occasional poor shot selection from our play. Khan compiled 121 with Karim Janat (61) who would fully justify his inclusion in the side via performances with both bat and ball. Spinner George Dockrell claimed match figures of 7-157 for Ireland. He was unlucky not to take more wickets and to finish on the losing side.

Staring down a daunting target but having made an encouraging start, Ireland then collapsed from 107-1 to 210 all out as we maintained our 100% winning record in Test cricket. We didn’t panic after Ireland made good progress early on before a double strike from Karim Janat (2-24) halted the visitor’s progress. Dave Rankin top scored with 48 but young spinner Qais Ahmad (3-50) wrapped things up after the pace bowlers had done their bit.

That’s two wins out of two in the Test arena and now it’s onto yet more more white-ball games against the side form the Emerald Isle. We’ll be looking to maintain our dominance against our friendly foes, continue to breed competition amongst the squad and develop our game in all formats.

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