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Afghanistan aims for further improvement

All eyes will be focused on opener Noor Ali as Afghanistan takes on the Netherlands

All eyes will be focused on opener Noor Ali as Afghanistan takes on the Netherlands in the four-day first-class ICC Intercontinental Cup match at the VRA ground in Amstelveen on Monday.

In a remarkable effort, the 21-year-old opener became only the fourth batsman after Arthur Morris (New South Wales v Queensland, 1940), Nari Contractor (Gujarat v Baroda, 1952) and Aamir Malik (Lahore A v Pakistan Railways, 1980) to score a century in each innings on his first-class debut. Noor achieved the feat when he scored 130 and 100 not out against a Zimbabwe XI in Mutare last week in a drawn match which earned Afghanistan nine points.

Afghanistan coach Kabir Khan, a former Pakistan Test fast bowler, believes Noor is set to score more runs against the Netherlands. "Every time I think I have seen the best of him, he proves me wrong by producing something special and extraordinary. With the form he's enjoying, I'm sure he will score more runs in Amstelveen.

"But these are early days for Noor and the side. The more the boys will play, the more they'll learn about the demands and rigours of first-class cricket with fitness being the key.

"Nevertheless, we have shown flashes of our talent and potential in the tournament opener and if we show the same commitment and zeal, I'm sure we will be able to challenge the top Associate sides in the not too distant future.

"I want Noor to enjoy this time and continue to play the way he's playing. I'm sure he'll learn when he'll play against different oppositions and in different conditions. But these are his happy days and he deserves to enjoy them without forgetting that he has raised the bar of expectation and to meet those expectations he'll be required to work and train harder," said Kabir.

Noor was not the only shining star in Afghanistan's first-ever first-class match last week. Middle-order batsman Mohammad Nabi produced a quality all-round performance when scored a well-constructed century, hitting 12 fours and two sixes in his 139-ball 102 and recorded match figures of 5-144. Wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad was the other good performer when he chipped in with a valuable 79.

"I think Afghanistan has given a very good account of itself in the tournament opener. I'm sure the opponents will take us seriously, come hard at us which, I think, will help us to play our best cricket.

"It is a long road to number one with no short cuts. There'll be successes and disappointments and we have to quickly learn to handle them both. But a good start is always essential and I think we got something in Mutare to build on," said Kabir.

The Netherlands had a difficult tournament opener against Canada last month but it did well to escape with a draw.

All-rounder Daan van Bunge put his side ahead of his maiden first-class century when he guided the Netherlands to a highly respectable draw by finishing unbeaten on 98. The Netherlands had resumed its second innings on the fourth day at 120-5 while chasing 368 for victory. But it slumped to 220-8 with 43 balls in the match remaining leaving Bunge to face most of the deliveries and defend the number-10 batsman Pieter Seelaar.

The draw meant the Netherlands gained nine points from the match, including six for the first innings lead.

The Netherlands has made five changes to the side that played against Canada. All-rounder Mudassar Bukhari, wicket-keeper Atse Burrman, batsmen Alexei Kervezee and Bas Zuiderent and seamer Edgar Schiferli have been recalled for the game in place of Wesley Barresi, Bart Schilperord, Berend Westdijk and Jeroen Brand.

It will be the first-ever time the two sides have faced each other at senior level. After the four-day match, the two sides will also go head to head in two ODIs to be played on 30 August and 1 September in Amstelveen.

NETHERLANDS (squad): Peter Borren (captain), Mudassar Bukhari, Daan van Bunge, Atse Buurman, Tom de Grooth, Mark Jonkman, Alexei Kervezee, Edgar Schiferli, Pieter Seelaar, Nick Statham, Eric Szwarczynski, Bas Zuiderent.

AFGHANISTAN (squad): Nawroz Mangal (captain), Khaleqdaad Noori, Karim Khan Sadiq, Mohammad Nabi Eisakhil, Mirwais Ashraf, Rais Ahmadzai, Dawlat Ahmadzai, Mohammad Shahzad Mohammadi, Hamid Hassan, Samiullah Shinwari, Ahmad Shah Ahmadi, Noor Ali Noori, Asghar Stanikzai, Shahpoor Zadran.

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