x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Afghanistan inch closer

Pace guides Afghanistan to close victory over Scots while Ireland trounce USA to keep qualification hopes alive and set up a day of intrigue.

ABU DHABI // Afghanistan improved on their chances to make the cut from the group stage after knocking Scotland out with a 14-run win. Ireland also stayed on course to join them with a crushing 98-run victory over the USA in the second day's Group B matches of the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier at the Zayed Stadium yesterday. If Afghanistan beats the USA and Scotland defeats Ireland, then the USA, Scotland and Ireland will be locked on two points each with net run-rate deciding which team joins Afghanistan in the Super Four stage from Group A. However, if the USA beats Afghanistan by a big margin and Ireland defeats Scotland, then the net run-rate will again come into play as Afghanistan, the USA and Ireland will be tied with two wins each. Afghanistan defended a modest 131 for seven on a good batting strip to beat Scotland. The bowlers led by the medium pacer Shapoor Zadran, who returned with figures of one for eight off a four-over spell, helped limit Scotland to 117 for nine.

Zadran's new-ball partner Mirwais Ashraf provided the break-through when he dismissed the opener Navdeep Poonia without a run on the scoreboard. He bowled a tidy three-over spell to return with one for 13. Karim Sadiq, the off-spinner, also bowled a tidy spell for his one for 19 from four overs. Mohammed Nabi, the other off-spinner, and Hamid Hassan, the medium pacer, were among the wickets, claiming two for 27 and three for 32 respectively.

Gavin Hamilton (32) and Neil McCallum (42) kept Scotland's hopes alive after they lost two wickets for eight runs, but with the 66-run partnership broken by Sadiq, Scotland lost their way with more than nine runs per over required from the last six overs. Earlier in the day, Scotland elected to field and began well with the medium pacer Gordon Drummond delivering a double blow by removing Karim Sadiq (three) and Shafiqullah (nought) to have the Afghans in a spot at eight for two.

Opener Noor Ali (42) and Mohammed Shahzad (30) rebuilt their inning with a run-a-ball 71-run stand for the third wicket. In the day's other game here, the Irishmen bounced back from their defeat to Afghanistan to have the best chance of becoming the second team to qualify from the group. After setting up a stiff 203-run target, thanks to Niall O'Brien's 84, they restricted the USA to just 124 for six.

Veteran all-rounder Trent Johnston, 35 - who took two for 17 from his four overs to have the USA reeling at 25 for six - was confident ahead of their final group match, saying: "We had to come back hard and we did that after a disappointing result. "Now we need to go on and win the rest of the games and try to win this competition. The openers batted superbly. They played some fantastic cricket strokes rather than the slog shots we see in this format of the game."

The USA's score could have been a lot less if not for a 99-run unbroken seventh-wicket partnership between Aditya Thyagarajan (72) and Orlando Baker (28). Peter Connell, Johnston's new-ball partner, took four for 14 from his four overs. But the tone of the game was set by O'Brien's entertaining 50-ball knock. The opener smashed 10 fours and two sixes, and took part in two superb partnerships: he put on 83 with William Porterfield, who hit five fours and a six in a 28-ball 45, and 89 for the second wicket with Alex Cusack (46). @Email:apassela@thenational.ae