With the likes of Mohammad Shahzad, Asghar Stanakzai, Najibullah Zadran, Shafiqullah Shafiq and others in their ranks, the Afghans have an intimidating line-up of ferocious and skilful hitters. Three wins from three now puts them on their own atop Group B with the potentially difficult Scotland, Netherlands and UAE matches safely negotiated.
Charismatic opener Shahzad had set Afghanistan off to a fantastic start in front of a good attendance in the Grange, a crowd that included a large number of vociferous Afghan supporters. Anything pitched up to the 27-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman disappeared over the sightscreens and anything short was punished square of the wicket as he raced to 75 off 36 deliveries.
After a short period of consolidation, normal service soon resumed, however, as Samiullah Shenwari (19 off 12 balls) and then Najibullah (37 off 21) and Mohammad Nabi (33 off 18) pushed Afghanistan towards a mammoth 210-5, the highest total of the tournament so far and Afghanistan’s best in all T20Is to date.
Shahzad had clearly decided to go after the spinners from the off and latch on to anything over-pitched.
“Yes, this is my plan. I am waiting for anything loose and then I want to smash it out of the ground. It is quite a short boundary here and I was able to use the wind to my advantage also. I was talking to Asghar and he was saying to me ‘you can go and hit every ball and I will give you the strike’.
“Najib, Samiullah and Shafikullah and others – we have plenty of dangerous batsmen on our team. Our plan is to give the first 10 to 12 overs to the first three batsmen. Then they get the licence to go and try to kill the bowling. If it comes off, great, if not then there are more batsmen down the order who can come in and hit boundaries. Today our plan worked and we are very pleased with how we played.”
Faced with a required run-rate of more than 10 runs per over, Scotland were always going to be under pressure. Matthew Cross (37 off 22 balls), Richie Berrington (20 off 15) and Preston Mommsen (44 off 20) did threaten to crash the Afghan party for a while but in the end it was not nearly enough as Scotland was beaten by 37 runs.
Meanwhile, as they had done in their first game against Nepal, the Americans bowled and fielded well early on against Ireland at Stormont and took the early wickets of Paul Stirling and Niall O’Brien with just 22 runs on the board. The confident Kevin O’Brien looked in good form and passed 1,000 runs in T20Is on his way to 23 before miss-hitting a full delivery from leg-spinner Timil Patel that was caught at long-off.
Indeed, Patel bowled beautifully throughout for the USA and ended with figures of 3-13 off four overs as Ireland were not allowed to dominate as they would have liked.
Andrew Balbirnie top-scored for the Irish with 44 and John Mooney (20 off seven balls) provided some much-needed momentum late in the innings as the home team posted 146-6. In response, USA collapsed to 100 all out with none of their batters passing 20 and Ireland putting in a solid bowling and fielding display.
Elsewhere, the Netherlands were too strong for UAE at the Grange with passionate slow left-armer Roelof van der Merwe (2-10 off four overs) bowling beautifully to help restrict UAE to 119-7, a total that the Dutch passed without much fuss thanks in the main to an unbeaten half-century from Ben Cooper.
“Our bowling has been very consistent over a period of time and today that set up the win and it’s always nice to chase a score like that convincingly,” said van der Merwe, who previously played ODIs and T20Is for South Africa.
“They’ve made me feel at home from the start since coming into this side so I fit in nicely and we have a good team here at the moment. It has been awesome.”
At Bready, after a delayed start due to a wet outfield, Papua New Guinea got its campaign off to a winning start beating a buoyant Jersey by 24 runs. The Channel Islanders won their opener against Hong Kong on Saturday but they came back down to Earth with a bump thanks to a good bowling and fielding performance from PNG with medium-pacer Norman Vanua to the fore, taking 3-19 off four overs. Only Jonty Jenner (44) provided real resistance as Jersey managed just 121 in reply to PNG’s 145-9.
Oman made light work of Canada’s more-than-respectable total of 133 off 13 overs in a rain-affected game at Stirling. Zeeshan Maqsood smashed an unbeaten 86 off just 41 balls, including five sixes and nine fours, as Oman passed Canada’s score with 10 balls and seven wickets to spare.
At Stormont: Ireland 146-6, 20 overs (Andrew Balbirnie 44; Timil Patel 3-13)
USA 100 all out, 16.3 overs (John Mooney 2-17, Stuart Thompson 2-20)
Ireland won by 46 runs
At Bready: PNG 145-9, 20 overs (Assad Vala 29; Anthony Kay 3-24, Ben Stevens 3-24)
Jersey 121 all out, 19.4 overs (Jonty Jenner 44; Norman Vanua 3-19, Willie Gavera 2-13)
PNG won by 24 runs
At the Grange: UAE 119-7, 20 overs (Swapnil Patil 34; Roelof van der Merwe 2-10, Michael Rippon 2-14, Ahsan Malik 2-17)
Netherlands 125-3, 17.1 overs (Ben Cooper 50 not out, Peter Borren 23 not out)
Netherlands won by seven wickets
At Stirling: Canada 133-3, 13 overs (Nitish Kumar 52, Navneet Dhaliwal 28)
Oman 135-3, 11.2 overs (Zeeshan Maqsood 86 not out)
Oman won by seven wickets
At the Grange: Afghanistan 210-5, 20 overs (Mohammad Shahzad 75, Najibullah Zadran 37, Mohammad Nabi 33 not out; Michael Leask 2-24)
Scotland 173 all out, 19.2 overs (Preston Mommsen 44, Matthew Cross 37; Mohammad Nabi 3-25, Hamid Hassan 3-29, Mirwais Ashraf 2-26)
Afghanistan won by 37 runs
Mon, 13 July – Namibia v USA, Stormont, Belfast (1000-1310); Hong Kong v PNG, Bready, Co. Tyrone (1000-1310); Ireland v Nepal, Stormont, Belfast (1415-1725); Afghanistan v Kenya, New Williamfield, Stirling (1415-1725)