23 July 2015
Afghanistan seals ticket to India
Mangal holds firm to star in six-wicket victory over Papua New Guinea in Qualifying play-off
Afghanistan qualifies for its fourth consecutive ICC World Twenty20 tournament
The third Qualifying play-off of the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier 2015 brought another reminder of the pressure that associate cricketers have to contend with. When he conceded the winning runs, Norman Vanua sunk to his knees in despair. His PNG teammates shrugged off disconsolate, aware that, with the ICC World Twenty20 now being played every four years, they had squandered their last realistic chance to make a world event this decade.
A pursuit of 128 should not have been particularly challenging for Afghanistan, which had restricted PNG to 127 for 6 after the latter elected to bat. But the stakes did not lend themselves to a facile win: not only was qualification to the ICC World Twenty20 2016 in India at stake, but also the US $250,000 participation fee and, to many, Afghanistan’s status as the second leading associate. There was also the Barrumundis’ unstinting energy in the field to contend with; until Najibullah Zadran heaved a match-winning six with 10 balls to spare, the noise from PNG was unrelenting.
In Nawroz Mangal, Afghanistan had a batsman able to ride the storm. In a rather harum-scarum line-up, Mangal provides relative solidity and calm, as he showcased by batting through its successful run chase. In between careful accumulation, he showcased his own explosiveness too. Three times, Mangal launched Mahuru Dai’s offspin for six, including consecutive maximums down the ground.
How Afghanistan needed Mangal. From the moment Mohammad Shazhad flashed aberrantly at the opening delivery of the innings, Afghanistan threatened to squander its chase. While Shazhad has been outstanding this tournament, he is still prone to the recklessness that led to his omission from the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 squad.
Alongside Mangal, Asghar Stanikzai, the skipper, played with caution as the two added 57 in 9.5 overs for the second wicket. But PNG’s spirit in the field was unwavering, and Charles Amini bowled a terrific spell of legspin to haul it back into the game. Stanikzai was enticed out of his crease by a delivery with ample flight; a reverse sweep from Samiullah Shenwari only landed in the hands of point.
Shenwari’s wicket left Afghanistan needing 45 from 37 balls, but PNG was unable to seize its moment. Unforgivably, a no-ball was conceded for three men being placed behind square on the legside. And with 29 needed from 25 balls, a routine chance off Mohammad Nabi, from Amini’s last ball, was spilled at long- on.
For PNG, the result continued a dispiriting trend of beginning tournaments electrically and then subsiding meekly on the brink of qualification for world events. In the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier 2013, PNG began with fine victories over Kenya and the Netherlands before losing its next three matches. In the final play-off to qualify, it reduced Hong Kong to 19 for 4 but still lost by 29 runs. The trend continued in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2014. PNG won three of its opening four games, but then lost its final three.
It seemed like this time would be different. PNG ended Ireland’s 21-game winning run in ICC World T20 Qualifiers, and recorded victories against Jersey and Nepal either side of that win. With its game against Hong Kong rained off, it meant PNG just needed to win one of its last two games to seal direct qualification to the ICC World Twenty20 2016 in India. But PNG was then routed by Namibia, and never threatened to chase down 148 against the USA, meaning it not only missed out on top spot but finished fourth, being consigned to a sudden death play-off against Afghanistan.
After choosing to bat – perhaps driven by the memory of defeats chasing in its last two games, although slightly curious given the 10am start – PNG produced a very passable impression of its previous collapses in high stakes games. A subdued start perhaps betrayed PNG’s anxiety. Leg byes were its top scorer in a Power Play that bought 20 runs, two wickets and no boundaries. When Dawlat Zadran induced Lega Siaka to poke behind, it continued Siaka’s bleak tournament: the man who scored three hundreds in his first nine one-day innings for PNG and earned a rookie contract with the Melbourne Renegades last Big Bash mustered just 59 runs at 9.83 apiece this tournament.
For a long time, PNG’s innings was marooned in stasis, utterly bereft of urgency as Afghanistan, and especially Shapoor Zadran, exploited its anxiety. When a ramp shot by Mahuru Dai off Zadran was snaffled at third-man, PNG was 55 for 5 and going nowhere anytime soon.
Belatedly the innings gained some impetus. Charles Amini glided and scampered his way to a run-a-ball 37 not out, and Norman Vanua, whose four sixes had sealed the two-wicket win over Ireland, showcased his power again to hammer 22 in ten balls. The upshot was that 61 runs came off the final five overs to lift PNG to 127 for 6: probably 15 runs shy of par, as Afghanistan ultimately showed.
To view the full scorecard, please click here.