As Scotland prepare to tackle Afghanistan in a brace of ODIs in Edinburgh this week, it’s worth remembering how much progress the visitors have made in such a remarkably short time.
Their cricket board was only formed in 1995, while they gained ICC Affiliate status as recently as 2001. And yet, less than two decades later, the Afghan brigade have blazed an incredible trail to join the global elite and cricket has become a formidable force against the Taliban.
Their first ODI was against the Scots in Benoni 10 years ago and they didn’t mess around in highlighting their credentials, surging to an 89-run victory in South Africa.
Looking back to the contest, the strangest feature was how Calum MacLeod was batting at 10 in the order and selected principally as a bowler. What a transformation he has orchestrated in the ensuing period!
In recent encounters, there has been very little between the sides, which explains why Scotland’s new coach, Shane Burger, has stuck with the majority of the players who orchestrated such inspirational results in the last 12–15 months.
When they locked horns with Afghanistan at last year’s World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe, there was a magnificent response from MacLeod to the challenge of chasing his opponents’ 255 during his unbeaten 157, which was amassed at quicker than a run a ball.
Just a few months later, he inflicted similar punishment to the England attack in his team’s historic ODI success, and MacLeod is one of several vastly experienced performers in the squad, alongside Kyle Coetzer, Richie Berrington, Matt Cross and George Munsey.
They also have plenty of crash-bang-wallop in the ranks with the likes of Michael Leask and Craig Wallace, pace in the guise of Safyaan Sharif, Brad Wheal and Alasdair Evans – with Adrian Neill waiting in the wings – and spin options from Mark Watt and Tom Sole, both of whom are refining their craft on the English county circuit.
Burger said: “We are excited to bring our white-ball game back to Edinburgh for the first time since June 2018. The squad is raring to go having wintered well and recorded series wins in Oman against quality opposition.
“We certainly go into the series with a lot of confidence and we are ready to face the challenge of a strong Afghanistan unit.
“We feel we are covered in all departments and fans can expect a positive brand of cricket from the team ahead of an important year of cricket.”
However, they will need all their grit and gallus positivity to resist Afghanistan’s combative class. I was among the many Scottish fans who thought Kyle Coetzer’s men were on course to achieve their first-ever World Cup win in Dunedin in 2015.
Having posted 210, they subsequently reduced their then Associate rivals to 132 for 8 and it seemed history beckoned. But instead, Samiullah Shinwari struck 96, the last pair added 19 precious runs and they reached their target.
It was another demonstration of how Afghanistan never know when they are beaten, possess a ferociously partisan and passionate spirit of collectivism and have gained ICC Full Member status on merit.
There’s no reason why Scotland can’t maintain their recent progress and attain at least a 1-1 draw in the series if the weather is kind. But they will be made to fight and scrap for every single thing by one of the proudest ensembles in global cricket.