On an action-packed first day at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, the Netherlands collapsed to 133 all out against a hostile Afghan pace attack, only to bounce back, dismiss the opposition for four less, and claim first-innings points 25 minutes before the close. Even then the drama wasn’t finished, for in the second over of the short final session Stephan Myburgh flashed at a short delivery from Izatollah Dawlatzai and was caught behind to achieve the rare feat of being out twice in the same day’s play.
It was a day completely dominated by the quicker bowlers, who delivered 77 of the 91 overs bowled and took 20 of the 21 wickets that fell.Conditions certainly favoured the faster men. The pitch was radically different from its neighbours, with plenty of grass and a definite greenish tinge, and the sky was overcast for much of the day.
But Dawlat Zadran, Izatollah Dawlatzai and Mirwais Ashraf bowled extremely well for Afghanistan, and Mudassar Bukhari, Ahsan Malik Jamil and Peter Borren responded in kind for the Dutch. Only two batsmen looked at all comfortable: Tom Heggelman, batting at ten in only his second first-class match, shared a crucial last-wicket partnership of 31, the highest of the innings, himself top-scoring with 29; and then Nowroz Mangal came with an ace of seeing his side to a first-innings lead with a magnificent fighting 67 before he was the last man out.
Nowroz’ wicket was the sixth for Mudassar Bukhari, who claimed five wickets for 30 in a sustained 13-over spell which ripped the heart out of the Afghan innings, and then came back to take his sixth – his best return in first-class matches – for 43.
The Afghan captain had taken the score from 92 for nine to the brink of the lead, supported by last man Izatollah, and one couldn’t help feeling for him as, immediately after pulling Bukhari over backward square leg for six, he chased a widish delivery and edged to keeper Barresi. Bukhari himself had received great support from Jamil, who bowled better than his figures of two for 32 suggest, and who had the misfortune of seeing two catches put down in a single over.
There had been little indication of the sensations to come when Myburgh and Michael Swart opened after Nowroz had won the toss and put the Dutch in, and they saw the total to 27 before, in the ninth over of the morning, Mirwais Ashraf trapped Swart leg-before. Myburgh had, as usual, been the more aggressive of the two, but rather than consolidating after the fall of the wicket he went after Dawlat in the next over, eventually driving low to cover where the catch was accepted by Mohammad Shahzad, who had ceded the wicketkeeper’s glove to debutant Afsar Zazai.
Thereafter wickets began to tumble, shared between Dawlat and Izatollah, and by lunch the Netherlands had subsided to 85 for seven. Bukhari fell in the first over after the interval, and it was left to Heggelman and Jamil to push the score past 107 – the Netherlands’ lowest first-class total – and up to the relative respectability of 133.
Bukhari immediately profited from a fatal Afghan weakness for the pull shot when the chase began, removing Javed Ahmadi with his second delivery and Asghar Stanikzai with his sixth, the latter falling to a very good catch by Myburgh, running back from short leg.
Shabir Noori and Mirwais Ashraf set about restoring some sanity to proceedings, surviving to the tea interval, but immediately afterwards Shabir was bowled by Bukhari, and two balls later Mirwais, who had reached 18, was brilliantly caught by Barresi off Jamil. 29 for four, and Afghanistan were in trouble in their turn.
Nowroz was now at the crease, but there was a steady procession at the other end, Bukhari claiming two more wickets, Jamil another one and Borren, when he eventually replaced Bukhari, two to reduce the home side to 92 for nine, still 42 short of a lead. The captain and Izatollah almost got them there, but Bukhari had the final word and the Dutch took the first-innings points.
Day two will begin, then, with the match apparently half-over, and the sides effectively level. At this rate, it might not even stretch into a third day!