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By the time India neared 100 without loss on the first day, romance had been replaced by reality on our Test debut.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!

Sachin: A Billion Dreams DVD Review

How fitting that I should be reviewing Sachin: A Billion Dreams, at a time when http://www.sillypointcricket has recently surpassed The Little Master’s’ Test tally of 15,921.

It’s getting on for two and a half years now since I commenced writing this blog and I’ve since added audio and even brought YouTube videos to the crease. This has, for the most part, been done without the help of social media. I’m not on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook etc and realise how putting some effort in on those mediums could help raise the profile of both me and my blog… but ‘life’ must take priority, sometimes at least!

Anyway, onto the task at hand… Sachin: A Billion Dreams.

I was worried that the film would be a little self-indulgent and sickly but I must say that I really enjoyed it. It does though highlight what a difference opportunity and practice make. It’s exquisitely shot (Rather appropriate) and provides an insight not just into Sachin or cricket but India in general. At two hours twenty minutes long, it’s a decent Test dig but there is a man’s childhood and twenty year career to cover!

For cricket tragics like myself, it’s well worth watching.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams scores… 90 not out

Jack of All Trades

Jack Leach was somewhat harshly omitted from the England Test XI that took to the pitch in the Caribbean. This was despite the Somerset spinner playing a pivotal role in England’s success in Sri Lanka just a few months prior.

Leach has performed exceptionally well in First Class cricket as well as appearing in a smattering of List A games but he has never taken to the pitch in a T20 match.

http://m.espncricinfo.com/england/content/player/455524.html

I really think that Leach could thrive in the shortest format and that such exposure could make him a better player in all formats. I can understand not wanting to compromise him but whether it be in the Big Bash, BPL, PSL or wherever, Leach could be well worth a punt.

Given the fashion for spinners opening the bowling in T20 franchise cricket, it’s in that role that I think Leach would be suited. Ed Smith recalled Jos Buttler to the Test side based on his IPL exploits. Could he make another left-field selection and pick Leach for T20Is based on County Championship form?

Six to Watch: 2019

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The 2019 English domestic cricket season is nearly upon us, beginning as it does as soon as April 5th. The campaign consists of the County Championship (First Class), One-Day Cup (List A) and T20 Blast (T20) competitions. Players will be pushing for international recognition in the Test, ODI and T20I formats or if not that then at least England Lions places. County players should be spurred on by the knowledge that a spectacular start to the season could see them gatecrash England’s (Or other nations’) squads for the 2019 ODI Cricket World Cup or Ashes series. England Women have their multi-format Ashes encounter this summer too.

This is the last season of English cricket as we know it because next year we’ll have The Hundred… yay! I know that we all can’t wait for some unofficial exhibition cricket in 2020!

Here are this year’s http://www.sillypointcricket.com’s Six to Watch:

Daniel Bell-Drummond, Kent

Daniel Bell-Drummond featured in my 2017 edition of Six to Watch. Two years on, he’s earned a recall!

It was against a touring Australia side a few years past that DBD scored a hundred and seemed a shoe-in as a future England opener. It was in Australia this past winter that the right-hander popped up in club cricket and hit the headlines hitting a hundred when David Warner and Steven Smith faced off. In the intervening years DBD hasn’t spectacularly failed but neither has he made an insatiable case for national recognition. Too inconsistent for Tests and possibly unfairly perceived as not quite destructive enough for ODIs, he even spent the end of last season in the middle order for Kent. With players such as Haseeb Hameed hoping to rediscover their golden touch and push for an England recall, Bell-Drummond needs to plunder runs and make himself the next cab off the rank. Given the all-round abilities of England’s current squad, opportunities for specialist batsman are few and far between but top order vacancies are there for the taking.

Welsh Willow Wizard Aneurin Donald, having relocated from Glamorgan to Hampshire as well as Ben Duckett, who has journeyed from Northamptonshire to Nottinghamshire and dispatched some demons on England Lions’ tour of India, are other batsmen worth keeping an eye on this year.

Danny Briggs, Sussex

It’s been a while since slow-left-armer Briggs donned England (ODI/T20I) colours but he was a surprise selection for England Lions this last winter so maybe National Selector Ed Smith has seen something he likes in the former Hampshire man. It’s hard to see Briggs knocking Jack Leach off his perch but if his white-ball competition is Liam Dawson then a strong campaign could see Briggs earn a romantic recall ala Joe Denly. Briggs has been generally economical and got plenty of overs under his belt for England Lions this winter even if he hasn’t taken a bucket load of wickets.

On the spin front, hopefully Mason Crane and Matthew Parkinson can put injury problems behind them and create a cluster of competition for England places.

Jack Burnham, Durham

I’m not being lazy, honest, but like Bell-Drummond, Burnham has featured before. He missed the entirety of the 2018 campaign having failed a hat-trick of drugs (Recreational) tests.

In 2019 Durham need Burnham to come out from the cold and warm the hearts of their most loyal supporters with a run-laden summer.

Amy Jones, Warwickshire

Jones has displayed hints of her talent at international (ODI/T20I) level, particularly behind the stumps but her batting continues to cause frustration. She’s got over fifty international caps to her name now so must kick on with the willow at international level. She made some really encouraging contributions in the latest edition of the Big Bash but it’ll be interesting to see how things play out at England level when Sarah Taylor’s around. Taylor is unarguably first choice with the gloves and though she may seek respite due to her health on occasions, if Jones isn’t pulling up trees with the bat then she’s at risk of not being in the first choice XI. That’s not where she’ll want to be during an Ashes summer!

Jack Plom, Essex

After seeing that Plom had taken a few-wickets in an England Under-19 game, I picked him as my protege in my England career on International Cricket Captain 2018. If not exactly a regular, he was reliable and never let me down. In truth, 2019 might be a bit soon for first team action but Plom might surprise me, get selected and bowl with… aplomb!

Other pace bowlers who’ll hopefully see more action this year include Lancashire’s Saqib Mahmood, Middlesex’s Tom Helm and Sussex’s George Garton.

Issy Wong, Worcestershire

The women’s game continues to go from strength to strength and to be honest, probably merits a Six to Watch of its own. For now though, having already mentioned Amy Jones, Worcestershire’s Issy Wong was one of just thirty-nine 13-20 year-olds selected for the 2018 ECB School Games National Finals. She’s already contributed some significant performances for Worcestershire and could well have England honours in her sights! A bit of a wildcard selection but it’ll be interesting to follow her progress.

Look out for my follow-up article once the season is complete.

Embuldeniya Ambush!

Some encouraging signs for Sri Lanka in the form of debutant Lasith Embuldeniya. Having claimed Dale Steyn as his maiden Test victim, Embuldeniya followed his first innings figures of 1-51 by claiming 5-66 in South Africa’s second innings of the first Test in Durban. Messrs Elgar, Bavuma and de Kock were among the slow-left-armer’s victims.

Sri Lanka aren’t quite the competitive side they once were, so bright spots like the contributions of Embuldeniya are most welcome.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/18645/scorecard/1144164/south-africa-vs-sri-lanka-1st-test-sl-in-sa-2018-19

Another newcomer, Oshada Fernando, is currently 28 not out having made 19 in the first innings batting first drop. Sri Lanka could really do with finding some quality batsmen to fill the void left by the retirements of legends Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene.

Living the Dream!

Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone has commenced the 2019 Pakistan Super League in record-breaking fashion. The twice capped England player scored 82 from only 43 deliveries on debut for Karachi Kings. The innings included half a dozen of both fours and sixes. Livingstone put on a PSL record 157-run stand with Babar Azam who made 77 from 59 deliveries.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/18898/game/1168821/karachi-kings-vs-multan-sultans-2nd-match-pakistan-super-league-2018-19

Livingstone is contracted for an IPL gig as well and will hope that such stellar performances catch the eye of England Selector Ed Smith. The twenty-five-year-old Cumbrian was harshly criticised by some following his first England appearances. He’s a talented all-round x-factor player who should get another chance to prove his worth at international level. He performed superbly for England Lions in Sri Lanka a couple of years ago and was in England’s Test squad that toured New Zealand last year.

Meanwhile compatriot Laurie Evans who performed extremely well in the Bangladesh Premier League, continued to enhance his reputation in Pakistan. The Sussex batsman scored 49 from 39 balls before being run out in Multan Sultans’ reply.

As for Ravi Bopara… 2-0-33-0!

Disclaimer: I’m pretty sure that I’ve used this headline for a Liam Livingstone related article before but… so be it!