Whangarei and Kabul are 13,376 km apart but geographical setting aside, one could have easily mistaken Cobham Oval for Kabul International Stadium on Saturday (January 13). Fans stormed the field immediately after Darwish Rasooli smashed a six to take Afghanistan to a five-wicket victory over Pakistan in their opening game of the 2018 Under-19 World Cup.
Chasing 189, Afghanistan U-19 reached 194 for 5 in 47.3 overs to register an emphatic win. This is the third consecutive loss Pakistan U-19 have suffered in the hands of Afghanistan at this level, having gone down twice against them in the ACC Under-19 Asia Cup in December.
Choosing to bat under overcast conditions, Pakistan got off to a shaky start, losing Muhammad Zaid, the opener, for a duck off the second ball, and Ammad Alam, the No. 3 batsman, almost immediately after.
Ali Zaryab and Rohail Nazir shored up the innings with a handy third-wicket partnership of 88 runs, but they needed to build on that to carry Pakistan to a formidable position.
Naveen-ul-Haq, the captain, who had bagged the first two wickets in the morning, brought on his spinners to rattle Pakistan once again in the middle overs. The batsmen handled Mujeeb Zadran with ease, but Qais Ahmad, with some help from Nisar Wahdat, the offspinner, and Zahir Khan, the chinaman bowler, dismantled the middle order.
When Zaryab and Nazir were removed, the scoreboard read 146 for 4 in 36 overs. Nazir’s knock of 81 off 105 balls, studded with nine boundaries, was a treat to watch, but he didn’t have enough support from the other end. A late burst from the remaining batsmen could have still taken Pakistan to a decent total. But five wickets went down, with Azmatullah Omarzai causing most of the damage towards the end, with figures of 3 for 34. Despite a resilient tenth-wicket stand from Arshad Iqbal (10) and Hasan Khan (13), Pakistan were restricted to less than 200.
It was not going to be an easy chase against the strong bowling of Pakistan, but the Afghans batted with immense maturity to get over the line.
Ibrahim Zadran, the opener, fell prey to a run out early in the chase, but Ikram Ali Khil (46) and Rahmanullah Gurbaz (31) kept them on track with a patient second-wicket partnership of 38 runs. The batsmen saw off a barrage of short-pitched deliveries from Shaheen Afridi, Muhammad Musa and Arshad Iqbal, the pacers, but there was a tense moment in the middle, when Gurbaz and Bahir Shah (1) were dismissed in quick succession.
Khil and Rasooli, however, steadied the innings with a crucial fourth-wicket stand of 75 runs, dragging the score to 125 for 3 by the 31st over. Khil fell four runs short of a half-century, getting bowled by Mohammad Taha, but Rasooli stayed on till the end to see the side over the line. The fans who had gathered to watch the action couldn’t control their emotions, running on to the pitch with their flags and embracing the players for their achievement.
Pakistan will play Ireland U-19 next on Tuesday while Afghanistan take on Sri Lanka U-19 a day later.