Scotland are one of the oldest Associate nations, having gained the ICC membership in 1994. They have had their ups and downs but it won’t be a stretch to say that they are living their greatest moment now. In the cut throat competition that Associate cricket is, they were amongst the six teams that qualified for the World Cup in a 14-team qualifying tournament in 2019.
The dream has extended in the main event. In the first round, they have won three out of three, including a come-from-behind victory against a side that has Test cricket history as long as their ODI history. They have stormed their way through to play the big boys now.
While they have the momentum, the test gets tougher than ever. Their first opposition in the Super 12 round is Afghanistan, who were fellow Associates not too long ago.
For Afghanistan, probably the quickest Associate nation to blossom into full members, it is about time to showcase their talent. 2016 was the first ICC event they made their appearance felt, beating the eventual winners, West Indies in a group match. They pushed the Asian sides to the hilt the 2019 World Cup but went back without a win.
The conditions couldn’t be more suitable for them. There should be a lot of help for their spin army. Most matches are expected to be low scoring that does not put their par level batting under a lot of pressure. This is Afghanistan’s best chance to stamp their presence. One thing that mars them is preparation. Various reasons have limited Afghanistan to only three T20Is this year.
A new look batting setup for Afghanistan
Afghanistan are not known for power-hitting but they have a different setup in their top-order for this tournament. With Mohammad Shahzad returning to the T20I side after three years, they have their most explosive top three in the format as yet.
Hazratullah Zazai, Mohammad Shahzad and Rahmanullah Gurbaz have a better average and strike-rate for any Afghanistan batsman to have batted in the top three.
It is a competitive match-up for the Scotland bowlers who have so far bowled at an economy of 5.4 in the Powerplay. They have picked nine wickets at an average of 10.8.
Can Scotland see through Afghan’s spin trio?
The non-Asian Associate nations are generally not great sides of playing spin bowling. Scotland, however, have been one of the better teams of playing spin.
Afghanistan’s spin trio include the off-spinner Mohammad Nabi, the mystery spin of Mujeeb Ur Rahman and the talisman leggie Rashid Khan. Not having many left-handers in the XI can work in Scotland’s favor to tone down the effect of Nabi. In T20s since 2020, Nabi averages 39.5 against right-handers as compared to 18.5 against left-handers. George Munsey is the only left-hander in Scotland’s batting unit.
Sharjah, however, poses a different challenge. Except the previous game at the venue, it has been a graveyard for the batsmen over the last one month or so. Spinners have been nearly impossible to get away. Rashid has picked 21 T20 wickets at the venue at an average of 21.3. The economy is as low as 6.2 runs per over.
This is the make-or-break battle with the bat. If Scotland sees through Rashid and other Afghan spinners, they have a great chance to make it four in four,
The Individual Contest
On an individual level, there lies a captivating contest between Rashid and Calum Macleod. Macleod has a sample size of facing only two balls from Rashid in T20s. However, In the only ODI Calum Macleod and Rashid locked horns, the former struck 49 runs off 31 balls against the leg-spinner without losing his wicket.
Macleod is one the best players of spin bowling in Scotland, courtesy of his brilliant sweep shot technique. In his ODI career, he averages 56.2 against the tweakers at a strike-rate of 88.6. In T20s, he averages 43.6 against spin while striking at 123.9. Macleod has not done a lot with the bat in this tournament so far but this could be his game. Scotland can push him up the order to tackle Rashid.
Scotland: George Munsey, Kyle Coetzer (c), Matthew Cross (wk), Richie Berrington, Calum MacLeod, Michael Leask, Chris Greaves, Mark Watt, Josh Davey, Safyaan Sharif, Bradley Wheal.
Afghanistan: Hazratullah Zazai, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi (c), Asghar Afghan, Gulbadin Naib, Karim Janat, Rashid Khan, Naveen-ul-Haq, Mujeeb Ur Rahman.