By James Fitzgerald
DEFENDING champions Scotland are on the verge of failing to qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 after becoming Afghanistan’s latest victim at the qualifying tournament in South Africa.
Having previously made it through to the World Cup in 1999 and 2007, Ryan Watson’s team must now win their final game against the United Arab Emirates on Friday and then hope other results go its way if one of those magical four places can be theirs. Ireland became the first country to qualify.
And although it remains a long shot, Afghanistan can still achieve what many considered to be the impossible and get through to the World Cup 2011 for the first time in the country’s history. Considering less than one year ago the Afghans were playing in Division Five of the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League along with the likes of Jersey, Japan and Vanuatu, it is a truly remarkable turn around. They have now beaten arguably the two strongest Associate teams of the past five years, Scotland and Ireland.
Afghanistan’s openers made Watson live to regret his toss decision. Top-order batsman Karim Sadiq was the hero of the day for the Afghans with 92 off 101 balls, a knock that included 10 fours and two sixes as he punished any wayward bowling. Karim’s contribution got his team to 279, a total that was always going to be a tough ask, particularly for a Scotland top order that had not been firing during this tournament.
Scotland revived when Ryan Coetzer and Gavin Hamilton put on 133 runs for the third wicket, but re-enter Karim Sadiq. Not content with his bat doing the talking, the right-arm off-spinner then removed both Coetzer and Hamilton as the Scots went into freefall, losing their last eight wickets for just 50 runs, eventually being dismissed for 237, some 42 runs adrift.
Afghanistan coach Kabir Khan added: "We are acting like a giant killer in this tournament. I am very proud of my boys and it shows that it wasn’t a fluke that we got through the World Cup qualifying rounds. I have always had faith in my batting order and I have always maintained they are very good batters. They are very quick learners and in the first round they saw how the top players play an innings under pressure and that is what they are doing in the Super Eight stage."
This defeat for Scotland put them last in the Super Eight table behind Afghanistan and Namibia on net run-rate. At the other end of the table, though, Scotland’s traditional rivals Ireland became the first team to confirm their place in the World Cup 2011 after beating Holland by six wickets at LC de Villiers Oval in Pretoria.
Man of the match William Porterfield (78) and Eoin Morgan (76 off just 62 deliveries) did most of the damage in knocking off the runs after Ireland’s bowlers restricted the Dutch batting lineup to 222 all out. Only Alexei Kervezee (77) was able to resist the tight and incisive bowling of Alex Cusack (3-26), Boyd Rankin (3-48), Peter Connell (2-35) and company.
The two points from this victory put Porterfield’s men at the top of the Super Eight table on 10 points. The worst they can now do in the tournament is second place and a place in the final at Centurion on Sunday.
Just who will join the Irish in the final or in the Asian subcontinent for the big event is less clear. Such is the competitive nature of this event, we are down to the last round of Super Eight matches on Friday and there are still three spots up for grabs and no team is definitely out of contention.
Starting the day on the bottom of the table, Namibia kept their slim hopes of qualification alive with a comprehensive and hugely impressive victory over Kenya at WITS University. At the top of the innings, JB Burger struck 125 off just 96 balls (16 fours, three sixes) to take the game away from Kenya. Burger received good support from Raymond van Schoor (61), Craig Williams (34) and Deon Kotze (24 off 18 balls) as Namibia posted the formidable total of 305. In reply Kenya crumbled to 104 all out with Sarel Burger taking 4-29.
The UAE gave their supporters something to cheer about in Krugersdorp when they beat Canada by five wickets. Spinners Khuram Khan and Saqib Ali did most of the damage for the UAE as the Canadians could only manage 194 all out. Khuram (53) and Saqib (37) were to the fore with the bat as UAE passed the total with five wickets and 18.4 overs to spare.
Super Eight standings
P W L Pts NRR
Ireland* 6 5 1 10 +0.860
Canada 6 4 2 8 +0.854
Kenya 6 3 3 6 +0.005
Holland 6 3 3 6 -0.018
UAE 6 3 3 6 -0.812
Namibia 6 2 4 4 -0.021
Afghanistan 6 2 4 4 -0.316
Scotland 6 2 4 4 -0.576
*Ireland have qualified for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011