Analysis: Scotland v Afghanistan
There was a period during the second ODI on Wednesday at The Grange where Scotland seemed to have the swashbuckling derring-do to record a morale-boosting victory over Afghanistan.
Chasing a D/L target of 211 from 36 overs, the home fans who witnessed this pivotal contest were initially discomfited when Kyle Coetzer departed for a duck.
Yet, for a while thereafter, the Edinburgh venue reverberated to loud cheers as Craig Wallace and Matthew Cross produced some sparkling pyrotechnics.
At the outset, the required rate had been a run a ball. But the north-east duo, and Wallace in particular, soon made that seem paltry.
The Forfarshire batsman, who has been in prolific form all summer, had no fear of the Afghanistan attack. On the contrary, he left his opponents feeling bewitched, bothered and bewildered with a series of coruscating shots, including three fours and the same number of maximums.
By the start of the sixth over, the hosts had reached 50 and were motoring at around 10 an over. But sadly, in a pattern which has become wearily familiar to those who follow Scotland, the wheels fell off.
In the space of a few deliveries, both Wallace and Cross were removed for the sort of entertaining cameos which help teams without propelling them over the finishing line.
Afghanistan, in contrast, have produced players who can push on and attain genuinely significant scores, Rahmat Shah struck 100 not out and Najibullah Zadran 89 not out in the first rain-truncated contest between the Associate rivals on Monday.
And Mohammad Shahzad chipped in with a typically belligerent 84 in the second tussle, which steered his charges to 178 for 6, prior to the arrival of the bad weather which has blighted June and July’s schedule.
At the midway point, both sets of personnel were quietly confident. Brad Wheal’s bowling had impressed and Con De Lange’s fielding was outstanding.
But, with the exception of Wallace and Cross – and they almost sound like the perfect Scottish memorial – there was just nothing in the tank from the Scots.
Preston Mommsen took 17 balls to advance to 13. Richie Berrington, who can be so potent at his best, struggled to find his rhythm against the varied Afghanistan line-up and only managed 19 from 38 deliveries.
Slowly, but with a sense of inexorability, the breath was strangled out of Scotland and they eventually collapsed in a heap. 86 for 3 in the 13th over became 132 all out at the start of the 28th when Con de Lange finally exited for 20.
And the fact that the wickets were shared among five different bowlers – with three for Mohammad Nabi, braces for Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran and Rashid Khan and one for Mirwais Ashraf – told its own story.
Namely, that Asghar Stanikzai’s rising stars have performed in enough of these ODI encounters to be able to turn things around to their advantage. They are gaining experience and the knack of winning, whereas Scotland keep flattering to deceive.
Over the course of the series, the visitors have proved they can go through the gears in impressive fashion. Shah and Zadran pounced on the feeble Scottish attack on Monday, depositing the bowlers to all parts of the ground with 103 in just eight overs.
It was a reminder that they have momentum – and ICC money – on their side at the moment. Scotland, although they have plenty of talented youngsters – and it beggars belief Mark Watt didn’t appear in either match – are lacking in these areas.
One wonders where coach, Grant Bradburn, goes from here. In anybody’s terms, he hasn’t delivered any meaningful victories since he arrived in the role.
And now there is a break of over a month before the UAE arrive in Aberdeen.
Ultimately, all that matters is victory. And, with the exception of a win over lowly-ranked Hong Kong in March, the balance sheet is a very poor state.