Never since those heady days of Roberts of Kandahar (no relation) has the name of an Englishman been on so many Afghan lips – let’s leave aside any dishonourable mentions of a certain Blair of Westminster and get back on topic, for it’s a grand tale and does not deserve to be tarnished.
Dunedin is about as far as you can get from here, but about as close to a home game as a Scots team abroad could find. It is where the diaspora of Jocks Abroad have found themselves these past 170 years or so; a real hame from hame, for there are mountains and sheep, and it rains. Mind you there is a bit of a drought at the moment, and that’s never been a topic for discussion back in the Old Country.
I pen these notes with bleary eyes, after another night where sleep was an absent bedfellow. I have dim memories, from the wee, sma’ hours, of consciousness seeping in as through the headphones someone shouted Caught, no dropped it. And from then I was gripped.
Scotland had batted first, troubled, stuttering. Eventually they set something of a total, back from the brink. 211 to win. The Afghans got off well, 85 for 2, which may not mean much to some but bear with me. Five wickets fell and the score still under a hundred. Surely they could win from here.
Two teams had taken the field, both with expectations of leaving it eight hours later with their first World Cup secured. The tie could have scuppered that, but surely improbable. Or was it?
But that dropped catch. Catches win Matches. I can hear it now. Shenwari had scored 20, barely settled in his game. Scotland’s Haq put the catch down. Hours later, flashing past in no time, and he’s added 58 more runs. But Scotland had it to win. 38 more runs; only 24 balls left. Surely.
And Haq was bowling; the last of his ten overs. Shenwari had to do something. And he did. It’s on the roof of the stand! 32 needed. Then he hit another six, and one more. Less than one run from every ball left. But Haq wasn’t finished. Shenwari went for glory, four runs short of a magnificent hundred, and found a safe pair of Scots hands deep in the field. Gone. 96 and out.
Last two at the wicket. One good ball would do it for Scotland. The Afghan bowlers had to find some skill with the bat; surely beyond them.
Now at this stage sleep is not going to return. And I relive all those horrors which see Scotland snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, no matter the shape or size of the ball. It’s in the DNA. Past masters.
And so it had to be. Instead of the good ball we found some poor ones. Into the last over. Less than one a ball. One hit would do it – one blow over the ropes; or one hit on the stumps. And the Scots slumped, again.
So it is that today in Kabul I guess rifles are being fired in the air. Celebration time. For the team that was born in the refugee camps of Peshawar had a first win at the World Cup. At our expense.
In a post match interview coach Andy Moles talked of humility in victory, as his players whooped and hollered all around. It’s not in their DNA, but they’ll learn it. And who could grudge them, after such tension. The ebbs and flows; the game there for the taking, then lost, then won at the last gasp.
And in Dunedin, the man who once coached New Zealand; the Englishman who is the toast of Kabul, savoured his moment, with humility. For he had a previous job, in lands familiar to South Island. That was when he was Scotland’s coach.
Catches win Matches. I can hear it yet. Not Boycott on the box, but Janice Broun, shrill across the ground, forty years ago. Another of her reasons to withdraw marital favours. If Claud didn’t score on the pitch, well…
What a great game. Sleep’s over-rated you know.