Afghanistan make it three out of three

Scott Edwards_Netherlands

Afghanistan duly completed their clean sweep with a 75-run victory in the third and final match against the Netherlands at Doha’s Asian Town Stadium on Tuesday, but it came in a manner which would have created international headlines had it not taken place in the Twilight Zone reserved for the Associates and lesser Test nations.

In the absence of DRS, the umpiring throughout the series had at times been poor, generally to the disadvantage of the Dutch, but this time, in the 31st over of the Afghan innings, the umpires decided that Viv Kingma, who was shining the ball for Brandon Glover, was guilty of illegally interfering with its condition and awarded five penalty runs to Afghanistan.

On Wednesday the ICC announced that Kingma had admitted the offence and had been suspended for four matches (whether ODIs or T20Is) in consequence.

Curiously, the last instance, in an ODI between Afghanistan and the West Indies at Lucknow in November 2019, involved largely the same umpiring team, although on that occasion they reported the player concerned and did not award penalty runs.

Here Afghanistan finished with 254 for five, their highest total of the series, and Scott Edwards and Colin Ackermann, the latter promoted to opening the innings, responded with a stand of 103 in 22.2 overs before Edwards, who had brought up his third consecutive half-century, was given leg-before to young leg-spinner Qais Ahmad.

Scott Edwards_Netherlands
Scott Edwards was Netherlands’ mainstay with the bat, and deservedly won the Player of the Series (Photo: ICC)

It was to be the first of six LBW decisions awarded to the Afghan bowlers, equalling the record for an ODI innings; one of the four previous instances, at Dehradun in 2019, also involved the Afghan attack, that time against Ireland.

It could be seen as just reward for bowlers attacking the stumps and as evidence of poor batting technique, and no doubt both are to some degree true, but there was sufficient doubt about some of the decisions to raise questions about the outcome had DRS been available.

That said, Afghanistan were incontrovertibly the better side throughout the series, and the Netherlands’ greatly depleted squad deserve much credit for having made it as competitive as they did.

But it was a measure of the difference that across the three games the Afghan batters hit 17 sixes as against three by the Dutch, all of them in that century stand between Edwards and Ackermann, and while the count of fours was more equal (43 to 40), more than half the Dutch tally came from the bat of Edwards, who was rightly nominated the Player of the Series.

Both sides made changes to the balance for the final game, and in opposite directions: Afghanistan’s four changes included the introduction of two new pace men, Azmatullah Omarzai and the debutant Fazalhaq Farooqi, while the Dutch rested Fred Klaassen, bringing in the versatile 18-year-old Aryan Dutt and giving a first cap to slow left-armer Clayton Floyd.

Floyd opened the bowling after Hashmatullah Shahidi again won the toss and he secured the initial breakthrough when Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who had led a charmed existence, being put down in the deep by Boris Gorlee and surviving a promising-looking appeal in the previous over, got a top edge and was caught by Pieter Seelaar at slip.

The left-armer bowled well throughout, conceding just 17 runs from his eight overs, and this time Seelaar relied more heavily on spin than in the previous games, deploying Saqib Zulfiqar and Dutt as well as Philippe Boissevain, Ackermann and himself for 30 of the 50 overs.

In general the strategy worked, and although the 19-year-old opener Riaz Hassan made 50 in an impressive international debut and Rahmat Shah contributed 48, it took a hard-hitting 71 from Najibullah Zadran, made from 59 deliveries and including eight fours and three sixes, to get Afghanistan to a solid total; in contrast to the previous games, Najib was able to ensure that the innings ended with a flourish, 87 runs coming from the final ten overs.

This was despite an encouraging effort from Dutt, whose three overs in the last ten conceded just 12 runs and included the wicket of Hashmat.

Then came the stand by Edwards and Ackermann, and as long as it lasted it seemed that the Dutch had a realistic chance of posting a surprise victory: even Mujeeb ur Rahman, whose initial four overs went for 18 runs, and Rashid Khan, twice struck to the boundary by Edwards, were unable to make any impression.

Once the breakthrough came, however, Ackermann looked increasingly isolated: Seelaar, batting at three for the first time, was bowled by Fareed Ahmad without scoring, Gorlee, promoted to four, was out leg-before to Fazal, and Bas de Leede soon followed, reverse-sweeping Mujeeb to Najib at backward point.

Ackermann, whose 96-ball 81 was his most assured knock in Dutch colours to date, followed in the next over, a first wicket for Rashid and the third LBW of the innings, and at 155 for five the Netherlands’ cause appeared to be lost.

It didn’t help when Dutt was run out by a direct hit from Hashmat, but then followed four wickets in 21 deliveries, three of them LBWs of which one, the last, would doubtless have survived a DRS challenge.

It was a disappointing, not to say embarrassing, end to a series which generally seemed to have been played in a good spirit.

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