Calum MacLeod stroked a superb century as Scotland pulled off a sensational win over Afghanistan to launch their World Cup qualifying bid in style.
Chasing 255 for victory, the Scots looked up against it when they slumped to 21 for two in Bulawayo but MacLeod, brilliantly supported by Richie Berrington, hit an unbeaten 157 to help his side record a seven-wicket victory with 16 balls to spare.
The former Durham batsman, who had been struggling for runs in the warm-up games, played himself in carefully before moving through the gears to tame a normally potent Afghan attack.
MacLeod faced just 146 balls, picking off the bad balls with a string of attractive shots that got the board ticking and allowed Scotland to claim the initiative. He stroked a total of 23 boundaries as well as clearing the ropes with a free hit in an innings of complete command.
Berrington played second fiddle and contributed a patient 67 to a match-winning partnership that brought 208 runs – a Scottish record for the third wicket in one-day matches.
He was out lbw to Rashid Khan near the end but MacLeod was still in the middle as George Munsey stroked the winning run, giving Scotland only their second victory in the last seven ODIs against Afghanistan.
Earlier, Scotland made the perfect start when the pacy Brad Wheal shattered Ihsanullah’s stumps in the first over to send the batsman back for a duck. It got better when a resurgent Berrington, playing a more senior bowling role in the absence of Ali Evans and Stu Whittingham, helped himself to three wickets.
Berrington’s victims included the dangerous Mo Shahzad, who was caught at point for 30.
Having reduced their rivals to 71 for four in the 19th over, Scotland were in the ascendancy but the Afghans started to rebuild and what started as a steady stand between Mohammed Nabi and Najibullah Zadran became a punishing one which changed the complexion of the game.
The pair went on to add 149 as the Scottish spinners in particular struggled to make any impression.
Nabi top-scored with a belligerent 91 from only 82 deliveries, hitting seven boundaries and three maximums while Zadran added 62. However, the Scots showed their resilience with a spirited fightback, sparked by the removal of both batsmen in successive balls.
Zadran was first to go when he was caught by Michael Leask as Wheal picked up his second wicket before Nabi was run out off the next delivery.
Their departure stemmed the flow of runs as Afghanistan lost their last six wickets for just 35 runs, Wheal claiming three for 36 and Berrington three for 42. It proved an important fightback, paving the way for MacLeod’s heroics.
Skipper Kyle Coetzer hailed MacLeod’s match-winning performance. “That was probably the best innings I’ve ever seen by any Scotland player,” he said. “It was an outstanding knock when we needed it. And we shouldn’t forget Richie, who scored 60-odd as well as taking three wickets.”
The Scots emphatically avenged their defeat by Afghanistan in the 2015 World Cup and Coetzer added: “There’s always a little bit of payback in wins like this and we’re delighted. It’s an outstanding way to start the tournament. The bowlers did well to take a few early wickets and then to hit back and finish the job fantastically.”
MacLeod, who hit 175 against Canada four years ago, now boasts the two highest individual scores by Scots in one-day internationals. Scotland face Hong Kong tomorrow.