25 February 2015
Afghanistan v Scotland Preview, Match 17, Dunedin
Mommsen’s side brings the no-nonsense stability while Nabi’s men are all about the delightful unpredictability
Statistically, Afghanistan has the edge, having beaten Scotland five times in the eight encounters between the two.
Afghanistan brings with it the ultimate romantic story in sport: From suicide bombs to steady batsmen, from war and chaos to wickets and cut shots. Ireland has the luxury of having pulled off stunning wins, against Pakistan in 2007, England in 2011 and West Indies most recently. The United Arab Emirates players are the true amateurs in that those who are freight forwarders by day play forward defensive shots in the evening and police officers by night are pulling fast bowlers by day.
But Scotland? The team is filled with cricketers who play cricket full-time, a dream that few can dream of.
But the Scots, they don’t complain. Not once will you hear them moan about the lack of attention they have got, and not once does someone such as Preston Mommsen, the captain, make excuses for how things have gone or wonder how much better they could be.
It is this cheerful no-nonsense approach that the team will take into Thursday’s (February 26) encounter against familiar foes Afghanistan, at the University Oval in windswept Dunedin.
If you are a betting man, now would be a good time to keep you money in your pocket. Encounters between these teams, both who have had to qualify for the big events, have been utterly unpredictable. Statistically, Afghanistan has the edge, having beaten Scotland five times in the eight encounters between the two teams. But, when the teams last met, in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, Afghanistan was shot out for only 63, chasing 214 at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium.
But, turning to form guides or recent results when it comes to two such teams is like deciding whether to take an umbrella out on a walk based on whether it rained in your city on the same day the previous year.
On paper, Scotland is the better drilled, more stable outfit, although its seam and swing bowlers did not quite get it right against England. Majid Haq, the offspinner, is more than capable of holding his own, but, how he will react if the batsmen go after him remains to be seen. Scotland’s batting is settled and capable of both attack and defence. The fielding, especially the catching in the ring from Mommsen and the wicketkeeping of Matthew Cross, would have had the most demanding fielding coach in the world purring with satisfaction.
If Scotland brings an even keel and some semblance of predictability to the table, the Afghans are the kind to pick up a plate and smash it. The reason why the team is equally likely to chase 300 and set someone a target of 100 is that the batsmen consistently go for it. The talent in the ranks is unmistakeable.
For both these teams, Thursday’s game is a huge one. There are two points up for grabs here. And those points will keep a dream alive.
When you think about it, in some ways, every time Associate nations take the field in this World Cup, they are living out a dream. This is something others might forget, but the players are acutely aware of the responsibility they bear. No quarter will be given, nor asked for. The battle will be fierce.
Scotland: Kyle Coetzer, Calum McLeod, Freddie Coleman, Matt Machan, Preston Mommsen (capt), Richie Berrington, Mathew Cross (wk), Josh Davey, Alasdair Evans, Majid Haq, Iain Wardlaw.
Afghanistan: Javed Ahmadi, Nawroz Mangal, Asghar Stanikzai, Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Nabi (capt), Najibullah Zadran, Afsar Zazai (wk), Aftab Alam, Dawlat Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran.
Ireland stretched by UAE before winning thriller
Ireland v UAE Preview, Match 16, Brisbane