Rippon's Resistance cannot deny Afghanistan
Bertus de Jong
An outstanding all-round effort from Michael Rippon was not enough to deny Afghanistan a comprehensive innings victory over their hosts at Voorburg yesterday, as the Dutch were bowled out 36 runs short of making their guests bat again.
A determined 83 from Hashmatullah Shahidi, with support from the middle order, had seen the visitors to an imposing 195-run first innings lead, Rippon's return of 5-79 largely responsible for keeping it under 200.
A 57 run opening stand between Rippon and Stephan Myburgh initially augured well for the hosts, but when Myburgh fell to Mohammad Nabi in the 10th over another rapid collapse ensued. Rippon's magnificent innings went to waste as the rest of the line-up disintegrated around him, the opener eventually last man out for of 80, 11 balls away from stumps.
Afghanistan had resumed that morning already 28 ahead, and Shahidi weathered a difficult early period which saw him lose skipper Asghar Stanikzai and former captain Nabi, clean bowled by Rippon and Roelof van der Merwe respectively. The Dutch had looked a much improved side in the morning, and might have fought their way back into the match had they held their chances, but three more tough chances would go to ground before lunch, with Paul van Meekeren especially unfortunate to go wicketless.
Shahidi persevered, and together with Mirwais Ashraf put on 69 for the 7th wicket, accelerating as the bowlers tired. A brief experiment in pace with the new ball after Tea proved fruitless, but then Rippon returned to make the breakthrough, trapping Ashraf LBW for 42. From there the innings was wound up swiftly, Pieter Seelaar removing Shahidi in his first and only over of the match and Rippon's left-arm wrist spin accounting for the rest, finishing with figures of 5-79 as the Afghans were bowled out for 312.
That would prove more than enough in the end, though Zadran and Ahmadzai's brief new-ball spell failed to produce the carnage of the first innings the introduction of spin brought immediate results, as Myburgh sought to cut Nabi off about 5th stump only to see the ball rip and turn under the bat into off. 15 balls later a needless run out would put an end to Tim Gruijters belaboured, 7-ball, scoreless innings, and Peter Borren was met with a nigh-unplayable in-swinger from Ashraf first up and was parted from his off stump before they'd had a chance to get acquainted.
Rippon continued to bat as if he were playing in an entirely different match, cutting and driving his way to a breezy 65-ball 50, which only served to make the rest of the line up look worse. Van der Merwe kept him company for 32 balls before being trapped LBW by Zadran for 18, and when Zahir Khan was introduced Afghanistan's own left-arm wrist spinner found conditions as much to his liking as his Dutch counterpart.
Khan bagged three successive wickets as the lower order began to hit out in hopeless desperation, and Zadran returned to remove Shane Snater in alomst exactly the same manner as the first innings, the debutant top edging a pull skywards and again finding the hands of Khan, this time at backward square.
That eighth wicket, falling almost on the stroke of what would have been the close, was enough to win Afghanistan an extra half hour in which to save everyone coming back the next day, and Zadran duly bowled van Meekeren with the Dutch still 44 runs behind and seven overs remaining in the day, to set up an entertaining three-way duel with number 11 Vivian Kingma and the clock.
By then Rippon had calmly progressed to 77, apparently oblivious to the calamitous events at the other end, and seemed oddly happy to afford Kingma the strike. The local hero duly rose to the occasion, recording a personal First Class best of 4* in 18 deliveries, each drawing a cheer and shouts of "Two More Days!" from the Dutch section of the crowd.
Just as it seemed as though the pair might last through the close however, Rippon finally succumbed to impulsiveness, failing to connect with an attempted reverse sweep on the first ball of the penultimate over, trapped in front as Zahir claimed his 4th for a total of 29 runs, Rippon gone for 80, the Netherlands all out for 159.
The win sees Afghanistan take the full twenty points from the match to temporarily leapfrog Ireland into first place on the table, with two free days to celebrate their achievement. The Dutch stay put on 46, in third for the time being, with plenty of time to ruminate on their shortcomings.