The whooping from the Afghanistan shed could be heard clear across the ground at the Queen's Park Oval as midnight approached Thursday. Gulbodin Naib and Dawlat Zadran had just run two to complete, with two balls to spare, what can only be described as a come-from-behind victory over Trinidad and Tobago.
With two overs to go, eventual triumph by three wickets would have seemed the least likely outcome to the second match on the opening evening of "Asia versus the Caribbean," the Twenty20 series. But as simple in the end as it was for the eighth wicket pair to collect the two runs needed with the scores tied; was as simple as it also was for T&T to surrender a match they had controlled from the start.
One over—No.19—changed everything.
Fast bowler Shannon Gabriel, back in competitive cricket after the injury which forced him to leave the West Indies tour of England earlier this year, was enduring pain of a different kind by the time the last, 20th over began.
He had begun to bowl the 19th with ICC Associate members Afghanistan still needing 31 to win. By the time it was over, Gabriel had been banned from the attack after bowling two over-the-waist deliveries which resulted in no-balls; two catches had been dropped in the deep; and Sherwin Ganga--finishing off the over--was lashed for a six and a two. Twenty-one runs had been shaved off the target and the Afghans could now chase victory with only ten more needed.
T&T captain Rayad Emrit had the ball in his hands for the decider. But off the third delivery, Naib smacked his full toss straight, and onto the Gerry Gomez Media Centre to virtually make the result certain.
It was a weird, gripping finish to a contest in which a solid T&T display had been derailed by one crazy over, and by the ankle injury suffered by all-rounder Kevon Cooper.
"Crucial" was the way coach David Williams described the loss of Cooper after he had got through just about half (1.5) of his allotted four overs. The big fellow had to be lifted off the field after hobbling away from the pitch and going to the ground after delivering.
With Dave Mohammed (2-0-22-1) and Sherwin Ganga (2.2-0-24-0 not having their best nights, Jason Mohammed's back-up off-spin (2.1-0-22-1 ) was used. But he too conceded decisive runs to Afghanistan's middle and lower order.
The Afghans, bound soon for the ICC T20 World Cup, never gave up the fight to get 172, even after losing their first four wickets for 32 runs inside the powerplay overs at the start of the innings.
The frenzied batting at the start had not paid off. But a somewhat more measured approach by No.5, vice-captain Mohammad Nabi, kept Afghanistan in with a chance. He entertained the small midweek audience with 57 off 36 balls with six fours and two sixes hit down the ground off Dave Mohammed and Sherwin Ganga. More importantly, Nabi established a series of partnerships for the fifth (37 runs), sixth (37) and seventh wickets (34). And when he was finally caught by Cooper's substitute, Yannick Ottley, off seamer Navin Stewart (4-0-33-1) with the score on 140 in the 18th over, Naib (35 not out, 20 balls) and Zadran (15 not out, six balls) had added a further 32 for the eighth.
Quick and easy of movement, Stewart, still a fringe player with all-round potential, distinguished himself in the field with a superb catch over his shoulders as he ran back from short fine-leg to snare Najibullah Zadran off Jason Mohammed's first delivery. And despite his nightmare final over, Gabriel bowled with good pace and otherwise good control to take two wickets, as did captain Emrit.
In general then, it was not a bad night for T&T.
Earlier, T&T openers William Perkins (49, 31 balls, one four, five sixes) and Adrian Barath (27, 20 balls, three fours) laid a firm platform for what could have been a total larger than 171 for nine.
With Perkins—the T&T wicketkeeper in this series—being his usual belligerent self, winding up and hitting with power, he and Barath posted 78 for the first wicket up to the eighth over before Barath was adjudged by the TV umpire to be stumped by wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad off Karim Sadiq, one of four slow bowlers used by the Afghans. Perkins was superbly run out next over, and suddenly Daren Ganga and former Under-19 left-hander Evin Lewis had to start over.
Neither former skipper Ganga (33, 29 balls) nor the promising-looking Lewis (15, one six, one four) could quite keep up the momentum. And in fact, only Sherwin Ganga at No.9 with ten, got to double figures again as the spinners quieted the scoring.
Still, 171 looked good for the win, two points, and joint leadership of the round-robin series with Bangladesh, who had beaten Barbados in the first match.
Instead, one bad over, and it was make or break for T&T against the Bajans last night.
T&T v Afghanistan
W Perkins run out 49
A Barath stpd wkpr Sadiq 27
E Lewis b Sadiq 19
D Ganga stpd wkpr Shahzad b Nabi 35
J Mohammed b Baras 15
K Cooper b Hassan D.Zadran 8
R Emrit run out 0
N Stewart lbw Hassan 0
S Ganga not out 10
D Mohammed c Shenwari b Baras 3
S Gabriel not out 0
EXTRAS: (LB1, W2, NB4) 7
TOTAL: (for nine wickets, 20 overs) 171
Wickets at: 79 (Perkins), 80 (Barath), 106 (Lewis), 142 (J.Mohammed), 151 (D.Ganga), 151 (Emrit), 157 (Stewart), 158 (Cooper), 167 (D.Mohammed)
BOWLING: D.Zadran 4-0-30-2, Hassan 2-0-13-0 (1nb), Baras 3-0-33-1, Shenwari 4-0-28-0, Sadiq 3-0-30-2, Nabi 4-0-36-2
K Sadiq c Lewis b Emrit 1
M Shahzad c Stewart b Gabriel 24
N Mangal c Lewis b Emrit 5
A Stanikzai c wkpr Perkins b Gabriel 0
M Nabi c sub Ottley b Stewart 57
S Shenwari c D.Ganga b D.Mohammed 15
N Zadran c Stewart b J.Mohammed 9
G Naib not out 35
D Zadran not out 15
EXTRAS: (NB2, W9) 11
TOTAL: (for seven wickets, 19.4 overs) 172
Did not bat: Hamid Hassan, Mohammad Nasim Baras
Wickets at: 7 (Sadiq), 25 (Mangal), 32 (Shahzad), 32 (Stanikzai), 69 (Shenwari), 106 (Zadran), 140 (Nabi)
BOWLING: Gabriel 3.4-0-35-2 (2w, 2nb), Emrit 3.4-0-25-2, Cooper 1.5-0-11-0 (1w), Stewart 4-0-33-1 (2w), J.Mohammed 2.1-0-22-1 (1w), D.Mohammed 2-0-22-1 (2w), S.Ganga 2.2-0-24-0
T&T - Rayad Emrit (captain), William Perkins, Evin Lewis, Adrian Barath, Jason Mohammed, Dave Mohammed, Daren Ganga, Sherwin Ganga, Shannon Gabriel, Navin Stewart, Kevon Cooper;
Afghanistan - Nawroz Mangal (captain), Mohammad Nabi, (vice-captain), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Karim Sadiq, Asghar Stanikzai, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shenwari, Gulbodin Naib, Dawlat Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Mohammad Nasim Baras