x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Afghanistan and Nepal are raising the bar in world cricket

The game has some new upstarts beating down the door to be noticed, and not even rain in the desert can stop them. Also, UAE beat Canada to stay in the hunt.

Nepalese supporters match their Afghanistan counterparts even though their cricketers could not at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Antonie Robertson /The National
Nepalese supporters match their Afghanistan counterparts even though their cricketers could not at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Antonie Robertson /The National

SHARJAH // This was a day of triumph for international cricket. And apparently there was a fixture going on in Australia between the sport’s two oldest rivals, too. Not that anyone here cared a jot about that. The Ashes is so last year.

The game has some new upstarts beating down the door to be noticed, and not even conspiratorial rain in the desert can stop the juggernaut.

World, meet Afghanistan and Nepal. You might find they will be staying for a while.

And judged by the colour and skill and general spirit of endeavour they showed at Sharjah Cricket Stadium, they are the most welcome guests.

Afganistan won it in the end, by nine wickets, meaning they are set fair to qualify for a third successive World Twenty20.

Defeat has put a dent in Nepal’s hopes of going to a first. But there was a greater good here.

“The game is bringing people together,” said Kabir Khan, the Afghanistan coach. “When we play against any other team, it is only Afghan supporters.

“It was good to have opposition supporters, even when they give you stick. It gives the players a kick and our players like a challenge.

“The crowd was going mad. Whoever they were supporting they enjoyed themselves. It would have been a shame if there was no game.”

There nearly wasn’t.

If this match was played between any of the sport’s established nations, the wealthy, elite, decision-makers, it would never have happened. They would have packed up their bats and balls and gone home soon after the first rain shower.

Rightly so.

Conditions were appalling.

But the inclement weather seemed to fit the occasion. These sides have always battled to be noticed.

A bit of rain was not going to stop them. Not even rain of the quantity which usually requires an ark, rather than a team bus, to get to the stadium.

The downpour that swamped the city about an hour and a half before the scheduled 2pm start was so torrential even the roof of the main grandstand could not cope. Water gushed through cracks in the ceiling and cascaded down the staircases.

It appeared certain there would be no play when a pool of water approximately 30-feet wide gathered underneath the Qasim Noorani Stand and settled on the outfield.

Once the shower had passed, the ground staff were heroically resourceful. First, they enlisted the help of some early arriving Afghanistan supporters, as well as the spin-bowler Hamza Hotak, to shift the covers from the square.

From a distance the wicket appeared dry, but the quantity of water lying elsewhere on the field meant the prospects seem hopeless.

Undeterred, the working party found some industrial vacuum cleaners with which they attempted to shift the standing moisture. Then mattresses were located and used as sponges.

All the while, the stands were filling up. These two nations are so new to the game, their supporters do not know to be put off by rain. It is magnificent.

By 4pm, two hours after the scheduled start, the main stand where the fans were gathered was as close to bursting as the drains were. There was no way these thousands could be deprived cricket.

So the authorities made do. The boundaries were brought in to avoid the most sodden areas. Bowlers were handed towels and told to get on with it.

Even then it seemed as though the party was going to fizzle out before it has officially started. As the players finally made it to the middle, and the umpires were on the brink of calling play, more precipitation arrived.

It was entirely deflating, especially as the sun seemed to be shining brightly at the time.

The extra 30 minutes delay meant a game which had already been reduced to 10 overs per side became seven apiece.

Nepal made 73 from their overs but, with miniature boundaries to protect, could not subdue Mohammed Shahzad, who hit 43 from 22 balls to seal the win with four balls to spare.

“We would have preferred to have the full 20-over game and it didn’t really help us bringing the boundary line in to 50 metres,” said Pubudu Dassanayake, the Nepal coach.

“That wasn’t in our control but I think the guys played well. We were up there as a team and that is good to see for us at this level.”

Afghanistan’s players thrived on the atmosphere created by the competing sets of supporters.

“The crowd made the game more interesting for the players and they enjoy that,” Kabir said.

“This shows there are a lot of people following the sport in Nepal, so there is a good future for the game there.

“For them to come in such huge numbers shows there is the following – and when you have that the pool of players increases, as well.”

pradley@thenational.ae

UAE beat Canada to stay in the hunt in Group A

The hosts carved out a fighting 36-run win over Canada to stay close to the Group A leaders with a game in hand. Ireland and Hong Kong, the other victors of the day, retained the top two places in the group with wins over Uganda and the United States, respectively.

For the UAE, Mohammad Azam and Shaiman Anwar made sure Canada’s opening bowlers did not get help they hoped for from the wicket, after the rains, when they won the toss and chose to field.

However, the introduction of Harvir Baidwan did the trick for Canada as Azam gifted his wicket away.

Shaiman followed soon and UAE started losing wickets at regular intervals, but runs came at the rate of less than a ball as the hosts finished with 159 for eight.

In reply, the Canada batting order failed to rally behind the experienced Ashish Bagai (43) and Damodar Daesrath (30) and were bowled out for 123.

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