UAE face a winners-takes-all eliminator in their final pool match in the Under 19 World Cup in Bloemfontein on Saturday, after falling prey to the latest spin-bowling sensation from Afghanistan.
The national age-group side lost to the Afghans by 160 runs in Potchefstroom on Wednesday, after Shafiqullah Ghafari picked up another five-wicket haul.
After choosing to bat first, Afghanistan posted 265-6 from their 50 overs, with Karthik Meiyappan picking up two wickets with his leg-spin.
Although the UAE openers, Aryan Lakra and Vriitya Aravind, put on 61 for the first wicket, the chase faltered thanks almost exclusively to Ghafari.
The leg-spinner had sent tremors through the tournament on the opening day when he took 6-15 as the Afghans shocked the host side South Africa in a seven-wicket win.
Afghanistan might be relatively new to cricket’s top table, but they already have a well-established pedigree for producing high quality slow bowlers.
Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammed Nabi are Indian Premier League regulars.
In addition to that, Afghanistan made it to semi-finals of the last Under 19 World Cup, in New Zealand two years ago largely thanks to the excellence of leg-spinner Qais Ahmed.
On this evidence, Ghafari is the latest on the production line, after he added 5-23 against UAE to the six he took against South Africa.
Arguably, UAE’s fate was sealed when he bowled Jonathan Figy through the gate off the third ball the left-hander faced.
Figy had been the UAE’s hero in their opening day win against Canada at the weekend, when he struck the first century of the competition.
When he went without scoring here, and Lakra followed him back to the pavilion after being run out by Ghafari, the UAE’s hopes were as good as ended.
Of the remaining batsmen, only Mohammed Farazuddin even made it to double figures, as the UAE effort petered out for 105 in 32.4 overs.
In the other match in the group, South Africa rebounded from their opening day upset as they comfortably dispatched Canada by 150 runs.
While Afghanistan are now guaranteed a place in the knockout stage, the final match between South Africa and UAE will play-off to decide who advances with them.