Lacklustre Scots hand initiative to Afghans in crucial ICC cup match

SCOTLAND's apparent charge towards the Intercontinental Cup final hit the buffers yesterday as Afghanistan dominated the opening day of their four-day clash at Cambusdoon, Ayr.

• Scots bowler Majid Haq delivers past waiting Afghan batsman Mohammed Shazad Picture: Donald MacLeod

The Scots have been generally excellent in a so-far unbeaten campaign and they may yet fight back to force the win they need to secure their place in next November's final. However, it is the Afghans who hold the upper hand after reaching 349-5 on a day when they were invited to bat by a Scottish side which looked out of sorts.

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Skipper Gordon Drummond's decision appeared reasonable enough in cold and damp conditions, which delayed the start by 45 minutes. But he must soon have wished he could turn back the clock as the Afghan batsmen made steady and largely untroubled progress.

The Scots had suffered a late blow when Gordon Goudie failed a fitness test but Dewald Nel, available for the first time since his move to Kent at the start of the season, was a natural replacement. However, neither Nel nor Matty Parker could make the breakthrough as Noor Ali and Karim Sadiq dug in.

Sadiq did ride his luck a little with a couple of boundaries through and over the slip cordon but Noor Ali opened out with three consecutive boundaries off Nel as Afghanistan reached 50 in the 13th over. The partnership was finally broken with the total on 67 but only thanks to the kamikaze tendencies of Noor Ali who was short of his ground while attempting a fourth run.

Afghanistan were the happier side at lunch with the scoreboard showing 111-1 and there was more joy for the visitors in the afternoon as Sadiq and Mohammed Shahzad both posted half-centuries. However, the return of Parker brought welcome respite for the Scots, the Forfarshire paceman removing both batsmen in quick succession.

Shahzad was first to go thanks to a superb diving catch by wicket-keeper Simon Smith.

His 54 included six fours and a six while Sadiq, who followed to the same combination, stroked ten boundaries in his 135-ball 67.

At 166-3, the door was slightly ajar but the Scottish bowlers declined to push it wide open.

Instead Asghar Stanikzai announced his arrival with a straight six off Majid Haq as he and skipper Nawroz Mangal embarked on another sizeable partnership.

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The pair added 68 before Mangal was well caught in the deep by First Class debutant Ryan Flannigan off Moneeb Iqbal while Mohammed Nabi was trapped in front by Drummond.

However, Stanikzai (88no) became the Afghans' third half-centurion and Samiullah Shenwari (50no) the fourth as the Scots continued to toil in the evening session.

Coach Pete Steindl refused to criticise the decision to put the Afghans in but said: "When you stick the opposition in to bat you have to make sure you bowl in good areas and we didn't do that. Every time we got a wicket we relinquished the momentum.

But he added: "It is a four-day game and there is still a lot of cricket to be played. We have to come out and bowl much better tomorrow and restrict them to as low a total as possible."