Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Scotland's UAE welcome cut short by an Afghanistan in ascension. Despite the near-equal experience of the two sides in ICC contests, the contest wasn't a battle of equals.
Despite the near-equal experience of the two sides in ICC contests, the contest wasn't a battle of equals.
The United Arab Emirates' welcome hug to Scotland lasted only as long as the toss.
Soon after, it became a chokehold.
The last time Scotland had faced Afghanistan – in the 2016 T20 WC – there were no signs of Afghanistan forging one of the deadliest spin attacks in T20 cricket. Neither Rashid Khan nor Mujeeb ur Rahman, who became the wreckers-in-chief on Monday (October 26), had made their international debuts. And yet, Scotland had lost all their six games against Afghanistan by then. Thus, for as much as the experienced and charged-up unit of Kyle Coetzer's group had improved in the last three years, and the form they had displayed in the last three games of the tournament, wouldn't have made them the favourites on the spin-friendly surface of Sharjah.
Whether to the excellence of the Afghanistan spinners or the inept batting against spin, they couldn't put on a contest in the run chase. Both teams though remained divided on the batting conditions. Naveen ul Haq, the Afghanistan pacer, believed the conditions were tough to bat on in the second innings, while Scotland were convinced that the surface had enough in it for them to chase down the 191-run target.
“It was a used wicket,” Burger said after Scotland's 130-run loss. “We watched the game the other night and saw them [Sri Lanka] chasing — they chased 170 on that wicket. So par could have been 170 again on that wicket. It did grip a little bit. It just slowed down. So if you bowled really good lengths and took pace off when required and got a bit of momentum going your way, par could have been maybe less than that.
“Either way, we were still confident we could have chased that target. The lads walking into the hut [after the first innings] said that's chaseable and we're definitely going to do our best going for that target. The mindset was good, just the execution at times wasn't quite there.”
As much as the contest became a one-sided affair with the Scotland batters failing to read the turn, Afghanistan had edged ahead with the bat itself, putting on a showcase of high-class T20 batting. With a right-left batting combination running throughout the innings, they held the match-ups advantage. Even in an unfavourable scenario, they could attack the shorter boundary. Reflections of the former were evident when Hazratullah Zazai broke free in the second over of the innings against the left-arm spin of Michael Leask.
It wasn't just that. The Afghan batsmen constantly adjusted their positions in the crease – sometimes pushing deeper, sometimes shuffling sideways, putting the bowlers off their lines and lengths. The early attack put the Irish bowlers, who had been used to greater respect in the Oman leg, on the backfoot in the powerplay itself.
Unlike Oman, in UAE where the pitch slows down significantly, teams batting first would be forced to maximize in the powerplay – against the hard ball and the field restrictions. And up against Zazai and Shahzad, any other approach was unexpected. At a ground where sometimes even 55 metres are enough for a six, the left-hander was tonking massive blows – including a 101-meter hit.
However, even after the openers were dismissed, Afghanistan continued to maintain the pressure – not only through the intent to attack but also running between the wickets. Unlike Zazai and Shahzad, who are poor runners between the wickets and rely heavily on the boundary shots, Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Najibullah Zadran tested the Scotland fielders with their quick singles and twos. On multiple occasions, the push for a second run even resulted in short runs, but that had little bearing in the end.
Barring Mark Watt's restrictive lines and variations in lengths – especially the fast yorkers – the rest of the attack had little answer to the assault of Afghanistan. The batting was carefree, clean and ruthless in attack. The Scotland bowlers may have failed to execute their plans, Afghanistan with their approach, set the blueprint for what could be an effective approach in a tournament where several teams are banking on a more conservative style of play.
“For a long period of time now, that's the way they played,” Burger said. “It's a brand of cricket that they play. You can speak about it as much as you want; you can train for it as much as you want, but until you get in there and you actually see what they do and how they play. You know, quite often we can be a little bit reactive where I suppose we wanted to be a little bit more proactive – hit better lengths and take pace on when required, manage the small boundary and the big boundary which we spoke about. Tonight the execution just wasn't quite there [from our bowlers],”
Burger is wary of the impact that such a crushing defeat can have on the morale of his team, and is seeking to look at the positives instead.
“On an evening like tonight, things change really quickly,” he believes. “We actually got off to a great start and we were on target to chase. We played brave cricket. We were going after the target, and then suddenly one over or a couple of things happen to you and it changes the momentum pretty classically. To recover from that doesn't quite often happen in T20 cricket. It can happen. This evening, it didn't happen.
“We'll take a lot from a few things that we did really well this evening. I thought Mark Watt bowled excellently, and we'll make sure that we take that momentum into the next couple of games. But we need to forget about this pretty quickly, put it aside and regroup and go again.
“Tonight's loss defines us as a team or defines them as individuals. I just think it's a game of cricket where things turn pretty quickly, and you know, character is defined by how you come back from something like this.”
The contest, to begin with – despite the near-equal experience of the two sides in ICC contests – wasn't a battle of equals, especially given the experience of the Afghanistan players in various T20 leagues around the world in recent years. Not enough Scotland players have had that quality of experience. According to Burger, even the experience of playing against the likes of Rashid Khan would've been a useful learning for his spinners, and the rest of the players in the teams who are out to audition for various T20 franchises.
“It [the experience of playing in big T20 leagues] plays a huge role,” he admits. “When you're able to play cricket all the time against some of the world's best players on the biggest stage, you're only going to keep getting better.
“So our legspinner would have learnt a lot from what Rashid did this evening, and I saw them having a chat after the game, and that was great from him to hand over that experience and keep building him up.
“We have got some world-class players on our team. But given more opportunity, given more time in the middle under pressure like this evening, I have no doubt that our performances will keep being more consistent. “
For now though, they were outclassed by a team that is stamping its authority in T20 cricket with the ball, and showing signs of doing it with the bat as well.