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Hamid Hassan winds back the clock in return for Afghanistan in Scotland

The eye of the tiger - Hamid Hassan's intensity still burns bright after missing several years with recurring injuries Peter Della Penna

Big Picture

When Afghanistan last ventured north of the wall three years ago, they were a side that had pushed Ireland off the iron throne to become king of the Associates. While Ireland had stumbled at the 2016 T20 World Cup in India to go winless in the group stage, Afghanistan not only swept their opening round, jumping into the main draw ahead of Zimbabwe, but wound up notching the only defeat of eventual tournament champions West Indies.

On the whole though, they were still trying to garner serious attention as a legitimate force, keen to outgrow the Cinderella fairy-tale tag, and their players were far from household names. Rashid Khan had made his debut less than a year earlier and had to wave at cameramen in Edinburgh to get their attention while he was showing off his football skills during warm-ups ahead of Afghanistan's 1-0 series win in which the leggie took 2 for 19 in the clinching win.

Rashid rarely struggles to be noticed nowadays. In fact, he's so big he has not even made the trip to Edinburgh, deciding there are bigger fish to fry in India. An IPL millionaire, Rashid has opted to stay with Mohammad Nabi at Sunrisers Hyderabad for the IPL playoffs ahead of the World Cup while Mujeeb Ur Rahman will also be absent while in transit after Kings XI Punjab's season concluded on Sunday. In that sense, Afghanistan management have adapted to Full Member norms rather quickly, sizing up Associate competition as that which doesn't mandate calling all hands on deck to feel confident about winning.

But such a move might be deemed somewhat hubristic based on Scotland's recent form. After all, Scotland slayed a full-strength Afghanistan by six wickets in their last encounter at the 2018 World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, with Calum MacLeod and Richie Berrington blunting the spin trio of Rashid, Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman in a Scotland ODI record 208-run partnership.

Then came the Saltires' seminal victory over No. 1-ranked England at the Grange in June in which MacLeod duplicated his feats against Afghanistan with another match-winning century. The fact that this match was played in front of Sky television cameras triggered a flurry of white-ball County contracts for MacLeod (Derbyshire), Safyaan Sharif (Derbyshire), Mark Watt (Leicestershire), Kyle Coetzer (Northants) for the rest of the 2018 summer that helped fill the void of Scotland's sparse fixtures list.

This is Scotland's first ODI since that historic match against England. But they have worked to maintain their standards via other white-ball cricket. After winning a T20I tri-series title in the Netherlands over Ireland and the Dutch last summer, they claimed a T20I quad series involving the same sides plus Oman in Muscat in February. Scotland followed that with a 2-1 List A series win over Oman - who secured ODI status last month in Namibia - in which they bowled out the hosts for 24 in Muscat in the series opener.

So for Scotland, the start of this series is a chance put another Full Member notch on their belt, to remind global administrators of the shortsightedness of a 10-team World Cup and to keep jousting with Netherlands for a seat on the iron throne of Associate cricket. For Afghanistan, they must demonstrate whether they have the quality in depth to survive in foreign conditions without three of their biggest match-winners.

Form guide

Scotland WLLWT (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Afghanistan LWLWT

In the spotlight

George Munsey has been a one-man wrecking ball in the last 12 months. After making an ODI career-best 55 off 51 balls in the win over England, he carried over sizzling form in T20Is for Scotland, scoring 302 runs in his last seven innings at an average of 43.14 and a strike rate of 189.94. His last 50-over innings for Scotland against Oman in February was a savage 96 off 43 balls, including nine sixes. He also made waves last month spanking a century off 25 balls for Gloucestershire 2nd XI against Bath Cricket Club.

Arguably the biggest star of Afghanistan's rise up the world cricket ladder that began at WCL Division Five in 2008, fast bowler Hamid Hassan spent more time in the commentary box than on the field in the last several years. He hasn't suited up for Afghanistan in an ODI since July 2016 against Ireland and not in any competitive fixture whatsoever since December 2017. But he dusted off his blues for a training camp in South Africa and was named in their World Cup squad with an aim to rekindle some magical nostalgia over the next two months.

Team news

After excelling at the 2018 World Cup Qualifier, Tom Sole missed the 2018 home summer slate after suffering a broken ankle during a club match before returning later in the summer for Northants. He has been recalled into the Scotland squad and may slot straight into the XI depending on conditions along with Brad Wheal, who took three-fors against Ireland and West Indies at the World Cup Qualifier.

Scotland XI: (possible) 1 Kyle Coetzer (capt), 2 Matthew Cross (wk), 3 Calum MacLeod, 4 Richie Berrington, 5 George Munsey, 6, Craig Wallace, 7 Michael Leask, 8 Mark Watt, 9 Tom Sole/Alasdair Evans, 10 Safyaan Sharif, 11 Brad Wheal

Afghanistan will only have 13 players available on Wednesday as the spin trio of Rashid, Nabi and Mujeeb complete their IPL commitments. Sharafuddin Ashraf has been called in as spin cover for new captain Gulbadin Naib's first match in charge after replacing Asghar Afghan following the March series against Ireland.

Afghanistan XI: (possible) 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 3 Rahmat Shah, 4 Asghar Afghan, 5 Samiullah Shenwari, 6 Najibullah Zadran, 7 Gulbadin Naib (capt), 8 Sharafuddin Ashraf, 9 Aftab Alam, 10 Dawlat Zadran, 11 Hamid Hassan

Pitch and conditions

The Grange is generally a high-scoring ground, as evidenced by the Scotland ODI record 371 they made in the win over England, but only when play is permissible. Rain began falling at the start of Scotland's frigid training session on match eve and there's a 90 percent chance of showers from 9 am continuing throughout the day on Wednesday with temperatures hovering around 7 degrees Celsius, making it likely that Friday's 2nd ODI may become a winner-takes-all finale.

Stats and trivia

  • Najibullah Zadran was on track for Afghanistan's fastest ODI ton in 2016 in their prior series at the Grange v Scotland before rain halted his innings at an unbeaten 89 off 53 balls.

  • Afghanistan are a perfect 6-0 in T20Is v Scotland and also hold a 7-4 edge in completed ODIs, including a win over Scotland in Afghanistan's first ever ODI at Benoni in the 2009 World Cup Qualifier.

Quotes

"In South Africa [training camp], he proved his fitness for the selection committee. Today he bowled really well. I'm looking at Hamid like it's back in 2010."
Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib on the return of fast bowler Hamid Hassan
"Full Member scalps are slightly higher profile in the eyes of people who maybe watch the game. Full Member games and victories is what we look for and what we need to keep pushing our game and make a little bit of a scene on the world stage."
Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer on the opportunity to beat a Test nation on home soil for the third consecutive season