Afghanistan stretched their T20I record against Scotland to 6-0. The 14-run win was facilitated by their belligerent opener Mohammad Shahzad and a spin-heavy attack that helped them defend 170. Scotland were well on course in the chase after George Munsey and Kyle Coetzer wiped off 84 in under nine overs, but the Afghanistan spinners dismissed the openers and then strangled the middle order to throw the chase off track.
Scotland needed 77 runs from the half-way mark with eight wickets in hand, but the Afghanistan spinners lived up to their captain’s decision of batting first to allow the slower bowlers to do their work later, on a surface that played into their hands. The win may have helped Afghanistan bury memories of their Asia Cup opening-match loss to UAE in Mirpur last month.
Shahzad started in his usual aggressive fashion and overcame some improvised bowling from the Scotland pacers in the Powerplay to cut loose later on. Shahzad and Noor Ali Zadran provided a flying start by putting on 25 in under three overs before Noor Ali steered a short ball straight to third man. Shahzad followed that by targeting the leg-side and straight boundaries to race towards a 32-ball fifty, his ninth in T20Is.
Scotland bowled 15 boundary-less balls after Asghar Stanikzai’s second-ball six, but could not build on the momentum as Shahzad used his brute force to strike three sixes within four balls to accelerate the innings again. Stanikzai was more subdued at the other end, but it worked only till Shahzad was unbeaten. Shahzad injected the run rate with more fuel in the 13th over with two fours off left-arm spinner Mark Watt, but fell on the third attempt when he miscued one high and down the ground.
Watt targeted the stumps from wide of the crease and Safyaan Sharif didn’t offer much pace to make Afghanistan lose a bit of steam. Afghanistan stuttered by losing Gulbadin Naib and Mohammad Nabi in quick succession before Shafiqullah found the boundary thrice towards the end. Stanikzai and Dawlat then collected 15 from the last over to finish with a flourish. Had Stanikzai not struggled with timing during his 50-ball 55, Afghanistan would have perhaps ended with a bigger score.
Scotland muscled their way to a start more powerful than Afghanistan’s. Munsey and Coetzer took only two overs to set their eyes in and started collecting boundaries at will thereafter. While Coetzer set things up with a four and a six in the third over, Munsey deflated the Afghanistan attack by hammering six fours in the next two overs. He exhibited crunchy drives and perfectly-timed flicks to first take on the experienced Dawlat Zadran and then Naib, to take the team total to 60 in the Powerplay. Change of bowlers and tactics barely changed the scenario as the duo welcomed legspinner Rashid Khan with nine runs.
Afghanistan finally got a reason to celebrate in the ninth over when Coetzer top-edged the most innocuous half-tracker of the day to deep square leg to end the 84-run stand. The spinners saw a small opening and stuck their necks through it. Rashid trapped Munsey lbw with a googly two balls later and Calum MacLeod slipped in the middle of a mix-up to be run-out for 2, that saw Scotland slip from 84 for 0 to 94 for 3 within a space of nine balls.
With the spinners doing the trick, captain Stanikzai brought back left-arm spinner Amir Hamza, who stemmed the flow of runs as Rashid had Richie Berrington stumped for 8. The gap between runs required and balls widened to 20 now and stump-to-stump lines from the spinners stretched it further to push the required rate above 10 per over.
Matt Machan tried to keep his side in the hunt but ended up facing 25 balls without a boundary. When he struck a straight six in the 18th over, the asking rate had shot up and wickets in hand could also not save Scotland.