SCOTLAND’s hopes of qualifying for next year’s T20 World Cup received a second blow in as many days yesterday as a rampant Afghanistan delighted their noisy supporters with a 37-run victory in Edinburgh.
Twenty-four hours after failing to chase 191 against the Netherlands, Preston Mommsen’s men found themselves set an even more daunting task as the Afghans, inspired by the combative Mo Shahzad, posted 210-5 to become only the second Associate nation to reach the double-hundred landmark in T20 internationals.
While Scotland went down fighting with notable knocks from Mommsen and Matthew Cross, they were left to rue another below-par display in the field.
“In the end they scored too many runs,” admitted Mommsen. “They came really hard at us and it came off for them, so it has been a really tough day.”
Scotland were probably still shell-shocked when their chase suffered its first setback, George Munsey, playing on his home Grange turf, holing out on the boundary in the second over off Mohammed Nabi.
There was an air of inevitability about the procession that followed as the Scottish batsmen, facing such a mammoth task, succumbed to the pressure.
Kyle Coetzer was next to go, driving Mirwais Ahraf straight to Nabi at extra cover having made a run-a-ball 15.
Calum MacLeod displayed invention in hitting two boundaries and scooping a six over deep fine leg on his way to 19 before a moment’s hesitation saw him run out by a direct hit. Scotland, at 48-3, and with a mounting run-rate, looked in a hopeless position, though a rapid half-century stand between Cross and Richie Berrington offered a glimmer of hope.
Cross showed particular intent in striking three maximums in his 22-ball 33 before offering a difficult return chance to Nabi and, when Berrington departed for 24, Scotland were 111-5, needing 100 runs from just seven overs.
Mommsen hit four sixes, three of them from consecutive Dawlat Zadran deliveries, as Scottish supporters could briefly be heard above the boisterous Afghans. However, the captain fell for a fine 44 from only 20 deliveries as Hamid Hassan returned to the attack to put the issue beyond doubt by cleaning up the tail.
Earlier, Mommsen’s decision to open the bowling with spin paid immediate dividends when Michael Leask trapped Nawroz Mangal in front in the first over.
However, the captain’s preference to replace Leask with Mark Watt backfired as Shahzad launched his assault with four huge sixes off the young left-armer. He reached his half-century from just 26 deliveries.
Nor did the punishment end there as the Afghanistan opener proceeded on his merry way, no doubt eyeing a three-figure score. He might well have got there had he not taken one liberty too many to present Con de Lange with his first T20 international wicket as Leask pouched a miscue at long-on. Shahzad had made 75 from 36 balls with seven brutal maximums.
Skipper Asghar Stanikzai was run out for 34 two balls later but, thanks to Shahzad’s heroics, the Afghans had already reached 113-3 in the 12th over and their remaining batsmen had a licence to swing from the hip.
They made the most of the opportunity, adding 97 more runs from the final 8.2 overs.
Najib Zadran played the most eye-catching knock with three sweetly struck sixes in his 21-ball 37, though Nabi cleared the boundary the same number of times in his 33 not out. Leask was easily Scotland’s best bowler with 2-24 from his four overs.
Scottish hopes of topping Group B to claim an automatic place at next year’s World Cup in India now appear to be over, while they may need to win their three remaining matches to be sure of reaching the play-off phase through which they could still qualify.
Mommsen added: “It is a short tournament and it is important as a team to peak at the right time.
“We haven’t done that this weekend but we have a day off to prepare for our next game and we will come back fighting.”
The Scots face Kenya tomorrow, Canada on Thursday and finish the group stage against Oman on Saturday.