Afghanistan win after see-saw contest
One of the joys of multi-day cricket is that a team has the opportunity to come back after a disastrous batting performance, turning a match on its head. That happened over the last four days in Sharjah as Afghanistan beat Papua New Guinea by 201 runs despite being 151 runs behind after the first innings.
Afghanistan were batting first after their captain Asghar Stanikzai won the toss, and their innings really wasn't anything to write home about, with Mohammad Shahzad's 29 the highest score. Norman Vanua was the pick of the PNG bowlers, taking 4-36 as Afghanistan were bowled out for just 144.
Papua New Guinea initially looked to be finding batting just as tricky as they lost three wickets within the first nine overs, but their middle order steadied the innings. Assad Vala and Sese Bau put on 55 for the fourth wicket, followed by Vala and Mahuru Dai putting on 105 for the fifth.
That partnership ended when Vala was stumped for 62 shortly before the close of play, with Jack Vare being trapped lbw by debutant Zahir Khan soon afterwards. Play ended three balls later, with Dai unbeaten on 67 and Papua New Guinea on 205-6.
Dai was the one to shepherd the tail on the second morning, dominating the strike and eventually bringing up his century from 118 balls. He batted on before he was the ninth man out for 129. The final wicket fell with another six runs added to the total, taking PNG to 295, a first innings lead of 151.
At that point, Papua New Guinea might have been having thoughts of an innings win, even more so when Shabir Noori was out for a duck in just the second over. Afghanistan, though, had other ideas. They were like a different team in the second innings. After Noor Ali Zadran was the second man out after a 53 run second wicket partnership with Mohammad Shahzad, they began to take the game away from PNG.
First came a 150 run third wicket partnership between Shahzad and Hashmatullah Shahidi, which ended when Shahzad was run out for 116. There was no respite for Papua New Guinea as Sahidi and Asghar Stanikzai took the Afghanistan score to 284-3 by the close of the second day, Shahidi unbeaten on 92 and Stanikzai on 45.
Shahidi brought up his maiden first-class century in the seventh over of the third day of play, whilst Stanikzai brought up his century later that same morning, hitting Norman Vanua for a six to reach it in fine style. Despite coming to the crease 34 overs after him, Stanikzai had overtaken Shahidi by the time Shahidi was dismissed for 112.
Samiullah Shenwari was out three balls later for a duck, but Stankzai kept on batting, eventually reaching 127 before he was the sixth man out when Mahuru Dai had him stumped with the score on 428. That still wasn't enough for Afghanistan, as Gulbadin Naib and Mirwais Ashraf put on 77 for the seventh wicket, scoring 75 and 54 respectively.
Papua New Guinea's bowlers were finally put out of their misery when Assad Vala bowled Yamin Ahmadzai to end the Afghan innings. Afghanistan had scored 540, setting Papua New Guinea a target of 390 in a little over four sessions. Even that mammoth target wouldn't have been too over facing for PNG though - after all, they had chased 305 in 2.5 sessions against the Netherlands back in June.
However, they couldn't recapture that form, finding runs hard to come by as they'd reached 110-4 at the close of day three. Assad Vala reached 81 on the final morning, but that was the sole bright spot of the Papua New Guinea run chase. They were bowled out for 188 to lose by 201 runs. Yamin Ahmadzai and Zahir Khan both took four wickets.
Afghanistan's next match will be a Twenty20 International against Hong Kong on Saturday, whilst Papua New Guinea have nothing scheduled in until an Intercontinental Cup match against Ireland and World Cricket League Championship matches against Kenya during the first half of 2016. PNG are the home side for those matches, but with no ground yet approved, it is thought likely that they will be played in Australia.