Followers of the Afghanistan Premier League were deprived another glimpse of Chris Gayle after he was rested for Balkh Legends’ penultimate regular-season match.
The West Indian opener was the biggest-name signing when the competition was announced, but has been restricted to just four matches so far in Sharjah.
He arrived late as he completed his final limited-overs season for his native Jamaica in the Caribbean.
Then, with a place in this weekend’s semi-finals already guaranteed, he sat out Balkh’s league match with Nangarhar Leopards.
Without him, the table-topping side were comfortably beaten. Nangarhar were thankful to their own West Indian opener for the setting up a victory that maintained their chances of a place in the last four.
Andre Fletcher was himself playing his first match of the APL, and he seemed intent on making up for lost time.
He hit 48 in 22 balls, as Nangarhar chased the 134 they needed for a vital third win of the tournament, with six wickets and two overs in hand.
“There are four overseas players who can play, and our two overseas batsmen [Anton Devcich and Johnson Charles] have been doing pretty OK,” Fletcher said of his delayed start.
“Then there is the captain [Ben Cutting] and we also had overseas bowlers, so it has been a bit difficult for me. At least I got the opportunity, and managed to make good use of it, so we came out with a win.
“I’ve been playing a lot of cricket. We have had CPL [Caribbean Premier League] and I had a pretty decent tournament, and I didn’t want that form to vanish away. It’s good that I’m still in it, and I want to continue it for the team.”
Despite the defeat, Balkh are assured of being around at the business end of the competition, and Qais Ahmed, their young leg-spinner, is relishing spending more time with Gayle and the other senior professionals.
“These players are sharing their experiences with us and I feel like I am improving day by day,” said Qais, who took 3-19 from his four overs against Nangarhar.
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“I’m learning from the senior players. If I concede a boundary, they say not to worry about that, and these are great experiences for me.”
Brendon McCullum, the former New Zealand captain who has been playing for Kandahar Knights, reckons the APL has shown how much emerging talent there is in Afghanistan cricket.
“This is a new and developing tournament,” McCullum said. “It will continue to get bigger and bigger names.
"I think what it will do for Afghanistan cricket is development, we’ve seen with other tournaments in the world particularly India.
“The exposure of local players to big tournaments like this only enhances the standard of cricket in that country. I think Afghanistan has got an amazing amount of talent in there and this tournament will continue to develop over time.”
The semi-finals will be played at Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Friday and Saturday, with the final on Sunday.