The two countries fighting for their first ever ODI World Cup victory served up a nail-biting contest in Pool A today in Dunedin, as Afghanistan came through in the final over against Scotland to claim a one-wicket success with just three balls remaining. It was a bitter blow for the Scots to take after seeming to be in complete control during much of their opponent's innings, only to fall just short right at the end as the pressure finally got to their fielders.
Scotland batted first after being put in by their rivals, with no-one really able to make a sizeable contribution as the wickets continued to tumble at regular intervals. They lost their first wicket for just 7 runs. After a solidifying fourth wicket partnership had added 53, two quick wickets set them back on their heels again.
At 144-8 it looked bleak for them, but they persevered to not only see out the full 50 overs, but to post a reasonable final total of 210 all out in their full allotment. The bulk of their late 'success' was down to a record stand for their nation for the ninth-wicket of 62, between Majid Haq and Alasdair Evans.
The chief wicket takers for the Afghans were the two Zadrans, Dawlat (3-29) and Shapoor (4-38), who made full use of the helpful conditions from the pitch.
After a promising opening partnership of 42 in their reply, the Afghans looked to be well on course for their target, but then saw their chances dissipating at a rapid rate as they were reduced through some canny Scots' bowling to 97-7. At the time they were in complete disarray it seemed, with five middle-order wickets falling for a meagre 12 runs. They did still have Samiullah Shenwari to fall back on though and his belligerent 96, including some impressive sixes, gave them renewed hope of salvaging the match. Looking to reach his century with a boundary, he was caught out in the deep with the little matter of 19 runs still being required for the win.
As the tension mounted at the death, the Scottish fielders were guilty of missing the opportunity to gain the last wicket they needed via a run out chance for Matt Machan and their opponents made them pay fully, when last man Shapoor Zadran hit the four they required for their triumph. Earlier, Evans (2-30) and Richie Berrington (4-40) had seemed to have tipped the match their team's way.
Afterwards, the Scottish captain Preston Mommsen echoed the likely thoughts of his side and their fans saying that: "It's a very difficult day. There was a lot riding on this, a huge opportunity to get that first win." With only Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Australia left for them to play in the tournament during the group stages, they may find that the success that they were hoping for may continue to elude them in the competition, as all three will be favourites to overcome the 'Tartan Army'. Their record of 11 successive losses in three World Cups does not make for particularly pleasant reading, for a proud sporting nation.
Afghanistan remain in the hunt for a quarter-final place thanks to their success, with a potentially crucial game against England as their final group match.