Afghanistan send off Nawroz Mangal in style as inaugural Desert T20 points to bright future
DUBAI // Nawroz Mangal was sent off into retirement with a lavish gift from the side he helped craft, as Afghanistan thrashed Ireland in the final of the first Desert T20.
Mangal, who was the first national cricket captain for Afghanistan as they rose from refugee camps to the world stage, is hanging up his boots now, and becoming the side’s chairman of selectors.
This was his farewell tour, and how he was treated by his players. For one last, glorious night, he was handed back the captaincy from Asghar Stanikzai for the final.
Before the start, he was given a thunderous reception from the 16,000 fans in attendance, and a guard of honour across a red carpet from his teammates.
What will have meant most to him, though, was the manner of the 10 wicket win. They crushed their nearest rivals. He leaves behind a side in fine order. His work is done.
Ireland batted as if they had a plane to catch. There was a reason for that. The team were scheduled to fly home on the 2.05am flight from Abu Dhabi. If the game had run a more normal course, they would have been lucky to leave Dubai International Stadium before 11.30pm.
Why the scheduling was left that fine is anyone’s guess. Even though Ireland’s T20 form over the past year has been indifferent, it was no shock they reached this final.
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What was a surprise was the ease with which Afghanistan’s bowlers sliced through them. Mohammed Nabi took four for 10 with his off spin, as Ireland fell for 71.
With such a desultory total to chase, Afghanistan’s reply felt like it was all part of the Nawroz Mangal testimonial.
He led the side off from their fielding effort, went out to bat ahead of his opening partner Mohammed Shahzad, and was welcomed to the wicket with a handshake by Will Porterfield, Ireland’s captain.
And he was at the crease when victory was sealed. It felt like the perfect end to a spectacular new event.
The only pity of the week was that none of it was broadcast live. An online stream would have been voraciously received, especially — but not solely — in Afghanistan.
Even without it, the tournament created a significant cyber footprint. The highlights packages put together at the ICC’s expense by Sharp Focus, a London-based production company, were avidly consumed.
For example, the clip of Najibullah Zadran’s extraordinary “slip-slap” six off Mohammed Shahzad in the group match against the UAE has been viewed over 1.3 million times.
When ESPNCricinfo listed it alongside Virat Kohl’s short-arm jab for six against England, in a piece asking what was cricket’s most outrageous shot, India’s finest never stood a chance. Almost every below-the-line comment related to Najibullah.
It could not be shown live because of the fine-print in the terms of the broadcast rights deal between the ICC and ESPN-Star.
That highly-lucrative contract means Star have exclusive rights to all ICC-sanctioned series involving four or more teams.
Given there was hardly any notice period for an event that was only officially confirmed last month, and that clashed with India’s one-day series against England, Star had little chance to show the Desert T20. It meant that no one else could, either.
The fact the organisers are hopeful the issue will be addressed in the future is positive on two counts. Firstly, for the simple fact the matches might be seen by a greater audience.
And secondly, it shows they feel there is a future. The teams involved certainly do. Each said they hope it becomes a regular fixture in the calendar, with a 50-over version ideally thrown into the mix, too.
“This sort of a tournament really motivates Associate teams,” said Amjad Javed, the captain of the UAE side who were knocked out at the group stage.
“If we don’t have this, we will only be playing qualifier tournaments, which come every two or three years. That is not good for Associates.
“We hardly meet or play each other. I think they should also think about trying to introduce a 50 over tournament as well. That would really help us.”
The UAE’s Gulf neighbours, Oman, are of a similar mind, and hope to be back here next year.
“I think it is a prestigious tournament because it is played among the top Associate members,” Duleep Mendis, the Oman coach, said after their semi-final exit against Afghanistan.
“I only hope this tournament will go on every year. It is good to have a tournament of this nature, and a privilege for Oman to take part.”
Grant Bradburn, the Scotland coach, believes a regular staging of this competition will help bridge the gap between Associate and Test nations.
“Hopefully the performances will raise the eyebrows of commercial departments, and we can stage this as an annual event,” Bradburn said after Scotland’s semi-final loss to Ireland.
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Updated: January 20, 2017 04:00 AM