They say you can experience the four seasons of autumn, summer, spring and winter in a single Christchurch day. It would have certainly felt that way to the Afghanistan team as they suffered the full range of emotions in testing conditions in the opening match of the under-19 World Cup. India proved to be just too good, cantering to an eight-wicket win.
After the persistent rain of Thursday, Afghanistan lost a crucial toss and were sent in by India skipper Ashok Meenaria. With moisture in the pitch and low clouds hanging ominously, the quick bowlers set to work.
The ball swung exaggeratedly, sometimes dangerously late, and repeatedly seamed disconcertingly. It was a cocktail that would have had even a quality senior team hopping about.
Afghanistan's young batsmen, who barely experience rain, and are reared on matting wickets — there is just one turf wicket in the country and it's a dry batting beauty — felt for the ball, often playing down the wrong line or late. Scoring was close to impossible as any risks resulted in thick edges, some that went to hand.
At 38 for 5, the game was all but gone, and had it not been for an innings of extreme application and dedicated stonewalling from skipper Noor-ul-Haq, India would have walked away with the game. The boy known as the Rock, in Asian Cricket Council circles, lived up to the moniker, seeing off 119 balls in an innings of 61. No other batsman made it to 20, and skipper Haq had accounted for more than half of the eventual team total of 118.
By the time the innings was done, the pitch had taken a beating from the fierce summer sun, and eased out considerably. India's openers Mayank Agarwal and K.L. Rahul played and missed a few times, but attacked with gusto. When Agarwal drove on the up and found mid-on, and later Rahul (35) attempted a late cut and steered a catch straight to slip, it was left to Mandeep Singh to see the game through.
The pint-sized aggressive No. 3 batsman showed just why people think he's a complete package, cutting, pulling and driving with total control. Meenaria put together a no-fuss 15, and Mandeep got to his half-century with his third six of the innings as India romped home.
On the day, Afghanistan were not disgraced, and if the captain showed the way with the bat, it was young quickie Mohammad Yamin Ahmadzai who set tongues wagging. Loose-limbed, supple and with a run-up that would make an athlete proud, the 17-year-old, who began playing two years ago, bowled faster than most senior cricketers do. It's unusual to see a kid with a clean action and sound wrist position hit 137 on the speed gun, but that is exactly what Yamin managed.
Today, when genuine quicks are a dying breed, it will be worth the ICC's while to keep teams like Afghanistan in action, just to watch exceptional talent of this kind.