Afghanistan tough opponents in Sharjah
Phase Two of the Netherlands’ visit to the UAE begins on Thursday with the first of a two-match ODI series against Afghanistan in Sharjah, which is likely to have a profound influence on the sides’ chances of qualifying directly for the 2015 ICC World Cup.
Currently in mid-table in the World Cricket League Championship with two wins and two losses apiece, both Afghanistan – whose home ground is the Sharjah CA Stadium – and the Netherlands know that two victories on Thursday and Saturday would see them hot on the heels of leaders Ireland and the UAE, while two defeats would make it extremely difficult for them to finish in the top two of the Championship and thereby book a trip to the Antipodes.
Afghanistan have an undoubted edge in one-day matches between the sides: the Dutch won the first two, in the World Cup qualifier in South Africa in 2009 and later that year in Amstelveen, but the Afghans levelled that series and then won twice more – at Westvliet and at Hazelaarweg – during the World Cricket League Division 1 tournament in 2010.
Each has a batsman whom opposing bowlers have seen altogether too much of. Mohammad Shahzad’s last three innings against the Netherlands have been 110, 55 and 82, while for the Orange Lions Tom Cooper made 101 and 96 in the WCL and yet finished twice on the losing side.
Shahzad ended last week’s World Twenty20 qualifier in impressive form with the bat, but overall much will depend on how the teams adjust to the rather different demands of the 50-over game.
Afghanistan have amply demonstrated that they have come to terms with all three forms of the game, and they are certain to prove tough opponents in the ODIs and in the Intercontinental Cup match which follows next week.
If the pitch on which the Netherlands played Hong Kong a week ago is any guide, Sharjah is unlikely to give as much encouragement to the quicker men as the Dubai International Stadium, and this may to some degree dilute the venom of the Afghan pace attack, ably spearheaded by Dawlat Zadran during the T20 tournament.
Dawlat’s speed and accuracy compensated for the absence of Hamid Hassan and, after the first couple of games, Shapoor Zadran, and with Izatollah Dawlatzai and Aftab Alam also contributing, it was Afghanistan’s pace men who played a key role in their side’s reaching the final.
But it seems probable that it will be the spinners – the off-breaks of Mohammad Nabi, Karim Sadiq and perhaps skipper Nowroz Mangal, and the leg-spin of Samiullah Shenwari – who will be crucial in keeping the Dutch run-scoring within bounds.
For the Netherlands, too, a pitch conducive to spin will keep the focus on Pieter Seelaar, Michael Swart, Tom Cooper and perhaps Tim Gruijters, who all bowled well over the past two weeks. Borren’s lively medium pace and skilful variation could also be significant, while Timm van der Gugten, Mudassar Bukhari and Ahsan Malik Jamil will no doubt relish the opportunity to bowl more sustained spells.
In Shahzad, Nowroz and Nabi Afghanistan have three batsmen of high quality, and Samiullah and Asghar Stanikzai have proved in the past that they can lend invaluable support. For the longer forms of the game, however, Noor Ali Zadran’s solidity is an important asset, and the side will be a good deal stronger if he has recovered from injury.
The Dutch, on the other hand, are reinforced by the arrival of Eric Szwarczynski, and even if he doesn’t step straight into the side, a top seven drawn from him, Stephan Myburgh, Swart, Cooper, Kervezee, Wesley Barresi, Tom de Grooth, Borren and Bukhari is clearly capable of amassing big totals.
The sides are evenly matched, then, with the Afghan attack probably marginally stronger than the Dutch, but the Orange Lions outgunning their hosts in the batting. We are set for two fascinating encounters, and as so often, the outcome may well depend on who steps up on the day.