Rahmanullah Gurbaz, the Afghanistan opener, scripted himself a debut to remember. The 19-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman scored an enterprising knock of 127 as Afghanistan kickstarted their World Cup Super League campaign by defeating Ireland by 16 runs in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
He clobbered as many as nine sixes, a world record for a debutant, in addition to eight boundaries. In the process, he became the first Afghan – and 16th overall- to score a century on ODI debut.
It was an innings of two dichotomous halves. Having capitalised on the short balls and driving loose half volleys through cover early on, Gurbaz brought up his half-century in a mere 38 balls. Thereafter, with the early introduction of spin on a wicket that accommodated the slow bowlers, he employed a watchful approach and took a further 77 deliveries to notch up his maiden international hundred. The change in approach, he says, was crucial.
‘Of course, I had to change my mindset a little bit,’ Gurbaz told reporters at a virtual press conference. ‘I have played a lot of T20 matches and today was just my first ODI. The coaches, captain and the senior players told me to change my mindset to play slow, respect the good balls and to play my natural game. I did not keep myself under any pressure.’
After a strong opening stand between Gurbaz and Javed Ahmadi, Ireland off-spinner Andy McBrine sparked a dramatic collapse accounting for all five wickets as Afghanistan slid from a comfortable position at 120-0 to 161-5 in the space of ten overs.
Gurbaz, however, remained unperturbed and saw off McBrine to bring up his maiden ODI century. The shot, a gentle nudge onto the leg side, was hardly the most flamboyant of the night he earned a reputation for but it was perhaps the most celebrated run he’d score.
‘The wicket was really good for spinners, at the time. I looked to rotate the strike because the pitch was difficult for the new batsmen at the crease. I was set at the pitch so my focus was on rotating the strike and playing them (the spinners) well.’
In a bid to shift the momentum in Afghanistan’s favour, he took on leg-spinner Gareth Delany’s rank long-hop but could only manage to hole out to Simi Singh at cow corner. His run-a-ball 127 earned him praise not only from head coach Lance Klusener but also from batting coach HD Ackerman.
‘Before the century they supported me and even after the century they supported me. When I came after batting, they were really happy for my runs. They are looking forward to my performances and the promise,’ he concluded.
It can be said, in the least, that the cricketing fraternity is witnessing the makings of a fine young cricketer.
Afghanistan 287/9 (Gurbaz 127, Rashid 55, Mcbrine 5/29) beat Ireland 271/9 (Tucker 83, Ul Haq 3/68) by 16 runs
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