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.

Cricket Captain 2018: Afghan Dreams Can Come True!

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When I accepted the challenge of performing the dual role of National Selector and Coach, ultimately being Team Manager for the Afghanistan Men’s National Cricket team, though I knew that a new dawn was about to commence, little did I envisage that the players would be writing history on such a grand scale so early in our relationship.

Having lost a competitive T20I series against Bangladesh 2-1, even if the deciding match looked a little one sided, we headed to India for my adopted nation’s first ever Test match. When a Kohliless India won the toss and chose to bat on the first morning, the following eleven men became Afganistan’s first ever Test cricket team:

Ashgar Stanikzai (c), Mohammad Shahzad, Usman Ghani, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Mohammad Nabi, Haji Murad (w), Hamza Hotak, Dawlat Zadran, Fareem Ahmad, Hameed Hassan

By the time India neared 100 without loss on the first day, romance had been replaced by reality on our Test debut. With the score on 97 however, Shikhar Dhawan was run out for fifty exactly. That leaves a tricky quiz question regarding who took Afghanistan’s first ever Test wicket. When Cheteshwar Pujara perished for 91, the second wicket to fall, it was left-arm quick Fareem Ahmad who claimed the honour of being the first Afghanistan bowler to take a wicket.

India closed the day on 268-3 and though we lacked penetration, we had contained our hosts and not yet allowed them to amass a terribly imposing total. On the second day, India progressed to 326-3 before Ahmad (3-127) led the fightback to restrict them to 444 all out. As well as Pujara’s 91 and Dhawan’s 50, Murali Vijay contributed a determined 90.

Our batsmen were not to be intimidated however. Mohammad Shahzad (29) and Usman Ghani (60) put on 83 for our first ever Test partnership. Rahmat Shah, who didn’t feature in the Bangladesh matches, followed Dhawan’s example by scoring 50 exactly. Making India bat again had looked a certainty but a little middle order wobble caused concern. It was left to 29-year-old debutant wicketkeeper Haji Murad to come to the rescue. Before the match, I’d decided that it was far too much to ask even a player as talented as Mohammad Shahzad to both open the batting and keep wicket. I didn’t want him wasted down the order though, so I insisted that he reside at the top of the order. That left a difficult choice as to who to select behind the stumps. There was some reticence when I selected an uncapped (In all international formats) nearly thirty-year-old to gatecrash the big occasion. Oh how it turned out though! Murad made an assured 45 alongside Dawlat Zadran (53) in a magnificent partnership of 90 for the eighth wicket to help us avoid the follow-on. Zadran had been disappointed not to play in the T20Is against Bangladesh and responded by making vital contributions throughout his country’s first ever Test match. His attacking 53, which included seven fours and a six, was his highest score at any level while Ravi Ashwin claimed strong figures of 5-97 for India.

India then wasted a promising start for the second time in the match when 213-3 became 296 all out. Shikhar Dhawan top scored with 89 while Ajinkya Rahane made 52. There were contributions from all our bowlers including part-time spinner Rahmat Shah. Shah claimed a crestfallen Karun Nair for just 8 to the last ball of the day in his first over. Perhaps the most crucial wicket to fall however would be that of Umesh Yadav. Yadav was forced to retire hurt first ball and would not be able to bowl when we came to bat second time around.

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We were set 413 to win, just five short of the highest run chase in Test history. Rahane surprisingly opened the bowling but was ineffectual alongside an expensive Ishant Sharma. Sharma (18-0-92-0) conceded his runs at in excess of five an over. Mohammad Shahzad (148) and Usman Ghani (83) put on 163 for the first wicket. Shahzad also compiled 106 with Noor Ali Zadran to take us to 269-1 and make the entire cricket world turn their heads and believe in the impossible. Even a cricketer as exuberant as Shahzad was restrained in his celebrations upon scoring his country’s first ever Test match hundred. He knew that although his innings was special, it could yet be part of something incredible. There was a wobble as India opened the door. 304-2 became 373-7 resulting in a nervy tea for our boys on the fifth and final day.

Debutant Haji Murad (21) played his part again but it would be captain Ashgar Stanikzai (57 not out) who would write the script. He put on an unbroken 41 with Zadran and had the honour of hitting the winning cover drive for four to seal an earth-shattering victory that sent shockwaves throughout the cricket world and announced Afghanistan on the Test stage.

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Credit to India for their grace in defeat. The absence of their captain and of a member of their bowling attack in our second innings proved fatal but for Ravi Jadeja to bowl only eight overs in the entire match was criminal. I take little credit for this victory. I have been with the boys for only a short time and they are a truly talented bunch. It is they who performed and etched their place in cricketing history. Their names and their exploits will be spoken about in a hundred years time. Whatever happens in their careers from this point forth, they will always have the first Test against India to reflect upon with immeasurable pride.

Disclaimer: Don’t ask me how Dhawan robbed Shahzad of Man of the Match!

Cricket Captain 2018: Suggestions for 2019 – Revisited

Hi readers

As promised in Upcoming Articles, here’s my audio cast detailing my suggestions for alterations and enhancements to the extremely addictive Cricket Captain series…

Here’s my previous written work too…

https://sillypointcricket.com/2018/09/12/cricket-captain-2018-suggestions-for-2019/

What would you like to see in the game?

Many thanks for reading and following and I look forward to reading your feedback.

Cricket Captain 2018: Omani Odyssey!

It was both an honour and a privilege to perform the dual role of Team Manager and Coach of the Oman Men’s Cricket Team at the T20I World Cup in India. I’m immensely proud of the effort of the squad and how competitive we were at various times in the tournament. I’m only sorry that we were unable to achieve even one victory for the people of Muscat and beyond to celebrate.

Here’s a recap of how our matches played out.

Match One versus Ireland

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Despite losing the toss and being put into bat, we soon reached 82-1 against Test nation Ireland. At the top of the order, Khawar Ali’s 38-ball 54 laid the platform for a competitive total before Aaqib Ilyas’ 42 not out from thirty deliveries helped us kick on. Frustratingly, very few runs came from the last two overs. Seamer’s Shane Getkate’s three-wicket over and Craig Young’s outstanding analysis of 2-17 from four overs, saw us collapse from 148-5 to 149-9!

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We kept Ireland in check during the powerplay but our spinners lacked both control and penetration as Ireland coasted towards victory courtesy of messrs. Stirling 74 not out and Porterfield 73. Only a late run out of the latter helped us avoid a ten-wicket defeat.

Match Two versus Netherlands

Again, we lost the toss but this time were made to bowl first. What’s frustrating about Netherlands massive total of 216-5 is that, in part at least, our bowlers performed well. Spin duo Mehrab Khan (2-40) and Khawar Ali (1-31) were much improved from the Ireland match but a third spinner, the experienced Ajay Lalcheta, brought in having been omitted for the opening match, was expensive, conceding fifty-two wicketless runs from his four overs. Who else but Ryan ten Doeschate (67 not out) was destroyer in chief.

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Khawar Ali then followed his 54 in the opening match by carrying his bat when making an excellent 86 not out. He faced exactly half the innings’ deliveries and twenty-five of his runs were gloriously driven through the extra cover region as the above graphic demonstrates.

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He shared an opening stand of 54 with Zeeshan Maqsood. Maqsood swashbuckled 35 from just sixteen deliveries to keep the Dutch honest. Ali then went onto share a stand of 70 with gloveman Naseem Khushi. Khushi only fell for 30 to the last delivery of the innings.

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Our effort of 173-6 is something to be proud of but having conceded 216, we fell short by 43 runs. As with the batting, it was a player with exhaustive experience of county cricket that proved the difference. Roelof van der Merwe finished with figures of 5-25. Take away the county stars and there really isn’t much between the two teams.

Match Three versus Bangladesh

In our final match against the mighty Bangladesh, we made it a hat-trick of toss losses and if we thought that Netherlands’ 216 was an imposing total, The Tigers 270-4 was always going to be an ask to chase down!

If you blinked, you’ll have missed Tamim Iqbal’s amazing 101 from a meagre 47 balls. Animul Haque (54 from 26) helped Tamim put on a gargantuan 153 for the first wicket. Shakib Al-Hasan then smacked 62 from just 22 deliveries to propel Bangladesh to within sight of 300!

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Debutant Jayesh Odedra’s international debut (4-0-63-0) was one to forget and he may never get another chance.

Mehran Khan’s 2-56 meant that he finished the tournament as our leading wicket taker with four victims at 34.00 apiece. His economy rate of 11.33 is nothing to write home about however.

Khawar Ali followed up his 54 and unbeaten 84 with… a golden duck, to end his World Cup on a low. He did finish as our leading run-scorer with 140 runs at an average of 70 and an impressive strike-rate of 141.40.

Against Bangladesh, it was his namesake Aamer Ali (28 from 18) and Alyas Iqbal (38 from 20) who put on an entertaining 58 to help us put a score on the board and avoid a truly embarrassing scoreline. Ilyas finished the tournament with 91 runs at 45.50. Noorul Riaz, a thirty-nine-year-old batsman who before the competition had played only one List A game… and duly ducked in it, followed up his nine against Netherlands on international debut with an ability demonstrating 39 not out. Throughout the tournament our batting unit fully committed to playing a selfless and attacking brand of cricket.

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The efforts of Ali, Ilyas, Riaz and co. amounted to 150-9 from our allocation. A respectable effort against a Test nation but still 120 runs short of parity.

In summary, I’d like to put on record my appreciation for the efforts of the team during the World Cup. As hinted at, every individual in the squad committed to the tactics of the collective and gave their all in the pursuit of glory. Though we were soundly beaten, we did manage to express ourselves against two Test playing nations and the most experienced non-Test playing nation. I’d like to thank the Omani Cricket Board and the fans for providing me with this wonderful opportunity and the support provided. Having reached the conclusion of my contract, we part on good terms and I wish all involved with Oman cricket the very best in years to come.

Cricket Captain 2018: The Greatest Series of All-Time!

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There have been many Ashes campaigns considered to be the greatest series of all time but surely none can trump the Ashes encounter of the summer of 2033 just gone! A series that ebbed and flowed until the last, that seemed in the firm grasp of Australian hands, only for them to lose grip in the very dying embers of the twenty fifth and final day’s flame!

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With Australia 290-7 deep into the final session of the final day of the final Test and only seven runs away from victory, before then reaching 296-8 to tie the score, step forward Sam Curran.

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The left-arm legend took two wickets in two balls to break Australian hearts and rescue the most incredible of results for England.

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The often under performing Feroze Khushi had upped his game against the hosts’ greatest rivals and not for the first time it must be said.

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After a disappointing campaign Sam Hain finally found form when it mattered with two fifties in the fifth Test. With Hain not quite at his best for most of the summer, it was Ollie Pope’s run-getting of biblical proportions that led the way for the hosts.

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A recalled Matt Fisher and a rejuvenated Josh Tongue were a constant threat with the new ball throughout the series.

The two teams next series? An Ashes campaign down under. It’s got an awful lot to live up too!

Cricket Captain 2018: Personal Milestones

The year is 2032 and Alastair Cook need not sweat!

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The run-getting of captain Max Holden has been integral to England’s Test success. An unfortunate recent habit of getting run out, including twice in a sensational Ashes series victory in Australia, have contributed to his average returning to something near mortality. Not that long ago it exceeded sixty!

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Occasional gloveman Ollie Pope has been another reliable run getter. His conversion rate is particularly impressive and had until recently helped him maintain an average just shy of fifty.

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Sam Hain has also piled on the runs, not just in Tests but in ODIs and more recently T20Is as well. Like Pope, Hain’s Test conversion rate is outstanding as is the case for him in ODI cricket. Hain is England’s leading run-scorer ever in the fifty-over format.

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Joe Clarke, who like Pope has been known to don the gloves, has also chalked up plenty of runs if not quite finding the consistency he would’ve liked.

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Sam Curran’s averages might be a little disappointing but he’s been a crucial impact player and continues to improve with bat and ball in all formats of the game. He reached 200 Test wickets in the same innings as Josh Tongue who we’ll come to later.

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Spin-bowling all-rounder Brad Taylor…

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… and wicketkeeper Jonny Tattersall, are two players who have been known to really step up to the plate when the chips have been down!

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After a woeful start to his international career, Matt Critchley silenced the doubters by going onto become one of England’s most reliable middle order Test batsman!

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Josh Tongue had to wait patiently whilst Jamie Porter (180) and Ben Coad (233) assumed the mantle from James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Now though Tongue has in excess of 200 wickets at both Test and ODI level as well as nearing 100 victims in T20Is. He’s some way ahead of second placed Jofra Archer (82) as England’s leading wicket-taker in the shortest format.

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Spinner Matthew Parkinson’s star had appeared to wane but he’s upped his performances once again to attain 665 Test wickets. That puts him ahead of James Anderson at the top of England’s all-time list of Test wicket-takers. He’s also performed effectively in white-ball cricket despite his workload been managed over the years. Parkinson has relegated the unfortunate Dom Bess (287 wickets @ 28.76) to the role of Stuart MacGill to his own Shane Warne.

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Tom Kohler-Cadmore is England’s leading run-scored in T20I cricket and has been known to really turn it on at World Cups both in T20I and ODI cricket. Like the next man we’ll come too, his averages have dipped over time but a renaissance in the twilight of his career has been welcome..

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Alongside TK-C at the top of the order in limited overs cricket, Ed Pollock has had his moments but an ODI batting average that once exceeded forty has declined dramatically. He recently compiled a ninth ODI century to feast following famine!

Players such as Ed Barnard, Ryan Higgins, Saqib Mahmood, Feroze Khushi and Jack Plom are amongst those to have remained part of the squad over time and had their moments in the sun.