Scotland have never come closer to winning a match at the Cricket World Cup but as the sun dipped over Dunedin their unenviable record was maintained in a nailbiting defeat to Afghanistan.
Scotland had turned around a match that looked to have escaped them but with just one wicket remaining and four balls to go, Afghanistan crept over the line to record their own slice of history.
Afghanistan had been in the driving seat chasing a meagre total of 210 when Richie Berrington and Josh Davey went to work from the 18th over and took apart the middle of the Afghan order in a spell of five wickets for just 12 runs.
Afghanistan slumped from what looked a commanding 85 for two to 97 for seven in little more than five dizzying overs. Scotland had assumed control.
Samiullah Shenwari then wrestled the game back with a brilliant 96 to set up a nerve-shredding final few overs as both sides chased a first win at this tournament.
When Majid Haq snared Shenwari in the deep, it was Afghanistan’s tail-enders who stuck to their task and with four needed off four balls, fast-bowler Shapoor Zadran clipped away the winning runs.
Scotland skipper Preston Mommsen said: “To get into that position, then to get out of that position...very disappointed. We didn’t play our best cricket but it’s still a game that we should have won. With the bat and with the ball we got into winning positions and regrettably in neither the first innings or the second were we able to deliver the killer punch.
“Obviously experience is a huge thing in terms of a World Cup and we’re still new boys at this and maybe that showed today, however in those last 20 of 30 overs we were trying everything to try and get their eight, nine and ten. We threw everything at them to try and get those last three wickets but we just couldn’t get it, but credit to Shenwari and the way he played, he had a serious knock. Individually he’s got them over the line.”
This game should have been the most winnable of the six from Scotland’s Pool A fixtures but another failure by the top order batsmen to add meaningful runs meant a barely defendable target against a big-hitting Afghanistan side.
Scotland scraped and scrapped their way to 210 though, the highest ever recorded by the side in a World Cup. It came from the unlikely source of Ali Evans and Haq, who ran up a record ninth-wicket partnership for Scotland.
None of the established batting line-up managed to get past 31 runs. “That was a disappointing thing about that first half today,” said Mommsen.
“We managed to gain quite a bit of control through the middle and then through some soft dismissals, we handed it back to them, opened the door for them, whereas we had the opportunity to really nail it and get a good first-innings score on a wicket that’s offering a bit to the bowlers.
“That’s something we need to look at as a batting group. Guys are getting in and doing all the hard work and then not going on to win games.
“There is an element of soft dismissals there, though there were some good balls there as well, the wicket was doing something. Six guys getting in and no-one getting past 50, that’s not something that we’re proud of.”
When opening batsman Calum MacLeod went for his second duck of the World Cup, with little more than an over gone, Scottish hearts sank at the prospect of the top order again failing to fulfil its role.
The Durham player slapped a ball to point, giving up the first of four wickets for Dawlat Zadran. MacLeod has now scored just four runs in three innings, a poor return for a man considered to be one of Scotland’s better, if more unpredictable, talents. Kyle Coetzer (25), who had made 71 against England earlier in the week, started with purpose but any hint of a partnership with Hamish Gardiner was snuffed out when first Gardiner (5) was trapped lbw, the third in a row of appeals against him. Coetzer then played and missed with the ball neatly removing the bails from his off stump.
Mommsen (23) and Matt Machan (31) appeared to have found a rhythm and a route to steadying the ship with a 50 partnership but Machan decided to swipe at Mohammad Nabi’s gentle off-spin, only to find he too was clean bowled. Mommsen fell exactly an over later to a good ball from Gulbadin Naib, a thin edge seeing the skipper caught behind and Scotland reduced to 95 for five.
Matt Cross (15) and Berrington (25) both reached double figures before marching back to the clubhouse with Davey adding just one before gently lobbing to mid-off.
With Evans (28) and Haq (31) making the total at least inching towards respectable, Afghanistan got off to a confident start. With a run rate a little more than four an over, Scotland had the task of at least making it difficult.
Evans struck first, removing the first two wickets, but when Afghanistan reached 85 for three, the wheels came off their steady progress. Berrington finished with figures of four for 40 from his ten overs, with Davey chipping in for two more as the seamers reduced Afghanistan to 97 for seven.
It was a case of what could have been for Scotland, the danger man Shenwari edged to first slip only to see Haq put down the easiest chance of the day before crafting what Mommsen described as the innings that won the match.
Scotland’s search for a first win in a World Cup continues against Bangladesh in Nelson.