Afghanistan’s journey to qualification to its first ever ICC Cricket World Cup has already been well documented as a fairytale of sport, but not many could have imagined the way they clinched their first ever world cup victory in the most thrilling of circumstances over Scotland in Dunedin
Coming to the crease with the score reading 46 for 2, and watching his team slip to 97 for 7 after Scotland was bowled out for 210, Shenwari (96) teed off till the 47th over, when one booming slog-sweep too many missed the meat of the bat and floated down the throat of the long-on fielder. With 19 still needed at that stage, Scotland was back in the game.
It came down to five needed off the last over. Iain Wardlaw, Scotland’s spearhead, conceded a single off the first ball. Rapped on the pads off the second, Shapoor Zadran wandered nervously down the pitch and would have been well run out if Matt Machan’s under-arm throw had hit the target. The third ball was a leg-stump full-toss, and Shapoor flicked it ever so elegantly to seal the deal.
After being set a modest target of 211 – and this was courtesy Scotland’s best batting effort in a World Cup match – Afghanistan began strongly with Javed Ahmadi bossing over the bowling and racing to a half-century. But things changed dramatically as Richie Berrington struck thrice in 19 balls, and Afghanistan lost five wickets for the addition of only nine runs.
Shenwari was left to plough a lone furrow as six batsmen either side of him departed for single-digit scores. At 97 for 7, Afghanistan would have felt that heartbreak was around the corner. Playing at a different plane, Shenwari kept the game alive, first blocking so determinedly that Scotland was forced to take its foot off the pedal and then picking off the big hits as surely as a sniper would coconuts from 50 yards away. Under pressure, this was an innings of great heart, and Shenwari certainly deserved to end on the winning side.
Earlier, the tone was set early on by Calum McLeod, who cut a rank long-hop straight to the man at point. Hamish Gardiner did not have too much success, playing down the wrong line and Scotland was in a spot of bother.
This grew into full-fledged trouble when Kyle Coetzer played an airy drive against Dawlat Zadran. The bowler had kept the ball full enough for it to swing, and the white Kookaburra duly obliged, bending in to exploit the gap between bat and pad and disturb the stumps.
Matt Machan and Peter Mommsen set about picking up the pieces of the innings, and although neither batsman was able to dominate the bowling, a sense of normalcy returned to the proceedings. Afghanistan did not go on the defensive at any stage, and its perpetual search for wickets soon bore fruit.
Machan, who had been busy enough to get 31 from 28 balls through safe strokes, suddenly favoured adventurism and the move backfired. Giving himself room to clear cover, Machan missed and the off stump was pegged back. Even before Machan could take his seat in the dressing-room, his captain was beside him, Mommsen (23) feathering a nick off Gulbadin Naib.
Matthew Cross looked promising for a time, but Shapoor produced a peach, a bit of extra bounce coupled with the ball straightening from around the stumps doing more than enough to kiss the edge. Diving full length to his right, Zazai plucked the ball out of the air one-handed, capping off an excellent passage of play.
Berrington provided the resistance, at No. 6, making 25 before the Shapoor-Zazai firm was back in business and Scotland was 144 for 8. Majid Haq (31) and Evans (28) combined in a 62-run ninth-wicket stand, the best for Scotland in all ODIs and even managed a mini flourish late in the innings to take their team to 210. In the end, it just wasn’t enough as Afghanistan made history.