A cricket tour into the unknown — together for more than a month on the road in the foreign, sometimes eye-opening, and even jaw-dropping conditions of Dubai and Bangladesh — was a chance for the New Zealand Under-19s to learn about themselves as much as it was to learn to play the game against quality opponents in unfamiliar climes.
But most of all, they were out to learn and win. Sadly it wasn’t to be as they went head to head with Afghanistan’s well-prepared spinners at the Sheikh Kamal International Cricket Stadium Academy Ground in Cox’s Bazar, in the Plate Semi-Final of the 2016 ICC Cricket World Cup.
In conditions described by the locals as chilly — it was a matter of perspective, being 20 degrees at breakfast time and rising to 28 — captain Josh Finnie won the toss for New Zealand. His talented team had run hot and cold across their adventures, but this would prove to be one of those days when batting first did not go to plan, against an exuberant spin attack — the Afghanistan team never one to be underestimated.
The omens that it was not to be one of their ‘hot’ days started when one of the most successful batsmen on tour, opener Glenn Phillips, was gone for a four-ball duck in the first over, having looked to sweep.
Then opening partner Rachin Ravindra was dismissed playing a defensive shot — only to pop up a caught and bowled.
Christian Leopard, another to have gained confidence from his stand-up performances on tour, shattered the tension in the seventh over with a six over cover. But Afghanistan’s Zia-ur-Rehman quickly learnt his lesson and kept it full and straight, building the pressure.
Leopard went for another lofted shot over cover, off Shamurrahman this time, only to mis-time it: caught.
Finn Allen strode in to join his skipper and smacked a handsome six off just the second ball he faced. Shamurrahman would take him out, too, when he looked to repeat the grand statement in the 14th over. Then Finnie himself was outfoxed by a ripping legspinner that clipped the top of his middle stump.
By the time Glenn Phillips’s younger brother Dale was dismissed scoreless, the ball whirring back to take out his off stump, it was gloomy picture at 35/6 in just the 19th over.
Josh Clarkson (25 off 39) briefly enlivened the camp. He slammed Shamurrahman for a huge six over cover and then a four next ball, desperately trying to find some salvation with Aniket Parikh.
But it would be just another handful of overs before the game Clarkson, too, was gone, Khan striking again to have him lbw on the back pad.
It could have been worse had the lower order not been prepared to fight so hard for their runs. By the 30th over, New Zealand was 89/7, the well performed Nathan Smith (23) and Parikh, who top-scored with 48 off 54 balls, valiantly trying to rebuild what they could.
A wicket on the 40-over mark made it 117/7: Talor Scott was gone caught and bowled as well. The determined Parikh, who had hung in since the start of the 19th to five the innings some flicker of hope, had finally been lost the previous over.
It had, as they say, gone to custard, the tailenders doing well to stretch out the tally to 135 before the New Zealanders were all out in the 45th over. Every one of the wickets for Afghanistan had been taken by their spinners.
Spin was the flavour of the day, clearly. But despite an early breakthrough — when Talor Scott made a stumping off Parikh’s first delivery, Afganistan rubbed salt into the wounds by settling in to be 67/1 at lunch.
They pushed on after the interval and were almost in sight of 100 without further loss when Parikh struck again with his flight, finally getting the other opening bastman, Ihsanullah, caught by Clarkson at long off on 47 to make it 94 for two.
But 135 simply didn’t threaten Afghanistan, first drop Tariq Stanikzai eventually top-scoring with an unbeaten half century, slamming six fours and a six as he helped chased down their target in just 27.3 overs — Perwez Malakzai knocking it off with one last six, for full effect.
The eight-wicket victory meant New Zealand’s hopes of making the consolation Plate Final were shattered. They had good company, for South Africa — who had been the defending Under-19 World Champs heading into the 2016 tournament, until they too were knocked out in a turbulent top draw — had also already been bumped out of the Plate reckoning.
One last playoff awaits.
The next edition of the tournament will be held in 2018 in New Zealand.