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Spinners Make Afghanistan Favourites Against Holland On Tacky Ekana Surface

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Lucknow, Nov 2 (PTI) They have outlived tags like ‘minnows’ and ‘giant-killers’ with their lion-hearted performances but spirited Afghanistan’s quest to reach the next level starts in earnest against an equally inspirational Netherlands in a World Cup match between the two teams here on Friday.

Starting as favourites on a tricky Ekana Stadium surface, with a quality spin attack at its disposal, Afghanistan (6 points) will not only look to secure two points against the Dutch (4 points) but also aim to win big and improve the net run-rate in its bid to remain relevant in the race to semi-final.

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The manner in which Afghanistan’s top-order batted to outclass sides like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, it showed that the victory against defending champions England wasn’t a mere flash in the pan.

Ashes-winning English batter Jonathon Trott was a gritty customer during his playing days and he has instilled the same doggedness in his wards too, as they have made the heads with their methodical approach and praiseworthy resilience.

Just like Kenya, with a bit of luck, made it to the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup, Afghans will hope that the rub of the green goes their way, beginning with the Dutch test.

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After this game, they take on Australia (November 7) and South Africa (November 10) in what would determine whether they have it in them to go to the next level — the World Cup semifinals. One defeat and it all comes crashing down.

The ‘Orange Army’, too have been a surprise package of this World Cup, securing upset wins over South Africa and Bangladesh.

It has put them ahead of Bangladesh and bottom-rung England in the 10-team standings to keep a slender semifinal qualification hopes alive although even their biggest supporters know that it would be miraculous if they happen to make it to final four.

 

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On six points each, Pakistan and Afghanistan are two other teams outside top-four who are very much in the mix of a last-four berth.

But Afghanistan with a much-inferior net run-rate (-0.718) compared to Pakistan (-0.024) would mean that the Hashmatullah Shahidi-led side have a lot of catching up to do.

The bowling has always been their strength but their biggest turnaround this time has been their batting which has clicked as a collective unit, something that came to fore in their clinical chases of 283 (vs Pakistan) and 242 (Sri Lanka) in their last two outings.

While skipper Hashmatullah Shahidi (226) and Azmatullah Omarzai (203) have the rock in the middle, the likes of Rahmanullah Gurbaz (224), Rahmat Shah (212), Ibrahim Zardan (212) and Ikram Akhil (77 in 2 games) have also shouldered a lot of responsibility.

It’s only a hundred that has eluded an Afghan batter as Jonathan Trott will hope that one among them go on to convert their starts.

The likes of Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman will be tempted to bowl at the Ekana stadium that is known for it’s slow conditions.

Teams batting second have won nine of 12 ODI matches played at the Ekana, including two in the World Cup The Edwards-led Netherlands bowled out Bangladesh for a lowly 142 to secure yet another upset in the World Cup during their last match at Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

With two fifties to his name, the skipper Edwards will remain their batting mainstay alongside veteran Sybrand Engelbrecht, Colin Ackermann and Logan van Beek the designated finisher of the team.

 

 

Van Beek’s cameo of 23 not out from 16 balls took their total past 200-mark, something that proved handy against the struggling Bangladesh in Kolkata.

Van Beek is also known to be giving breakthroughs in the middle as he would look to dent Afghan’s progress with his clever changes.

They now have the four points in the pocket, same as Sri Lanka. But the Netherlands’ NRR is much inferior and they face the improbable scenario to post wins over Afghanistan, England (November 8) and India (November 11) to keep their hopes alive.

Teams Afghanistan: Hashmatullah Shahidi (c), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Ibrahim Zadran, Riaz Hassan, Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Ikram Alikhil (wk), Azmatullah Omarzai, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Noor Ahmad, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Abdul Rahman and Naveen ul Haq.

 

Netherlands: Scott Edwards (c & wk), Colin Ackermann, Wesley Barresi (wk), Bas de Leede, Aryan Dutt, Sybrand Engelbrecht, Ryan Klein, Teja Nidamanuru, Max O’Dowd, Saqib Zulfiqar, Shariz Ahmad, Logan van Beek, Roelof van der Merwe, Paul van Meekeren and Vikramjit Singh.

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