SHARJAH // Reams have been written about Afghanistan’s passion for cricket and their national team, and the Sharjah Cricket Stadium provided further evidence of it on Sunday night.

Afghanistan were playing Pakistan and Shahid Afridi was part of the team, yet the Pakistanis were a minority in the stands. Their neighbours, with their colourful flags, were a 95 per cent majority, if not more.

Unfortunately for them, Pakistan’s experience eventually prevailed. In a nail-biting finish, they reached their target of 138 with six wickets to spare as the captain Mohammad Hafeez (42) anchored the run chase.

Cricket’s upstarts, however, did enough to make it worthwhile for their fans, taking the match into the final over and the final ball. With a run needed off that ball, Dawlat Zadran bounced Afridi, but it was a bit too high and Pakistan won off a wide.

The Afghans deserved all the cheers that came their way, because reaching the industrial parts of Sharjah in the evening, especially on the first day of the work week, is no mean achievement.

That is the reason why, as the two Afghanistan openers walked out to the middle, the stadium was far from full.

Most of the fans were still on their way, stuck in those bumper-to-bumper traffic snarls that start from Jebel Ali and probably finish somewhere beyond Ajman. Wisely, some decided to reach the venue more than three hours before the umpires called play.

All of them were, of course, Afghans, but unfortunately those early-comers did not enjoy a great start to the game.

Afghanistan had only seven runs on the board when they lost their second wicket and the partisans had little to cheer.

Asghar Stanikzai lifted their spirits with a couple of maximums in the seventh over, but he was gone in the next over with the team score being 29. That brought captain Mohammad Nabi, Afghanistan’s most-reputed player, to the crease and he and Zadran added 35 to score before Afridi’s quicker one castled him.

Zadran helped the team reach 100 in 15 overs and thanks to his efforts, the Afghans were able to post 137 for eight, but unfortunately for the fans, it was not enough in the end.

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