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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Signs of promise for Afghanistan Premier League despite slow start

Ben Cutting's side triumph in Sharjah as new Twenty20 tournament looks to find its feet

After their country’s two leading cricket stars had lit the fireworks on an uplifting opening night for the Afghanistan Premier League, Twenty20 cricket’s newest competition endured a chastening second day in Sharjah.

Where Rashid Khan’s Kabul Zwanan had won out against Mohammed Shahzad’s Paktia Panthers in a game that saw 438 runs scored in 39.5 overs a day earlier, second time around was a tough watch.

A crowd hardly numbering in three figures watched as Nangarhar Leopards ground out a tepid six-wicket win over Kandahar Knights at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Saturday.

Ben Cutting, the Australian freelance cricketer who is Nangarhar’s captain until Andre Russell arrives from West Indies, led by example for his side, as he took five wickets. But even he acknowledged it was hard work.

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“We are excited,” Cutting said after his first foray in the five-team tournament, that runs for the next three weeks in Sharjah.

“It is a new tournament for most of us, so to get a win on the board, it wasn’t a flashy win, it was a grind and we had to work hard for it.

“I think that is going to give everyone in our squad a lot of confidence.”

There have been two notable features of the APL so far. First, that all the players have so far remembered which team they are playing for on any given day and on what ground, in what Emirate.

Cameron Delport, for example, played for Boost Defenders in the Abu Dhabi T20 on Thursday, before swapping his kit for that of Paktia in Sharjah the next night.

Mitchell McClenaghan played for Lahore Qalandars in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, before moving up the E11 to represent another new team, Nangarhar, in another new tournament two days later.

Colin Ingram played for Boost in the capital on Thursday and Friday, then Kabul on the Saturday.

And, secondly, Afghanistan clearly has a deep well of talent, judging by the efforts of the Afghan players in the competition so far.

OK, so some of the main stars scheduled to play in this tournament – like Russell and Chris Gayle – are yet to arrive, but Afghan players are worth top-billing, too.

Shahzad had made 67 from 39 balls on opening night, a little over a week after his remarkable century in the Asia Cup.

And that, too, against a Kabul side that contained Rashid, the leg-spinner that Cuttings regards as the world’s best bowler.

“Cricket in Afghanistan is in a pretty good spot,” Cutting said. “There are some fantastic players out there. Some of these guys, some of these spinners that we have in our team, are as good as the best spinners in the world at the moment.

“We saw how Rashid Khan came to the fore in the IPL. He is the best bowler in the world, and we have some pretty good spinners, too.”