Ben Foakes passed another searching examination from Afghanistan’s exciting leg-spin talent Rashid Khan to set up a fascinating fourth-day finish to England Lions’ historic first-class match in Abu Dhabi.
Foakes, who had made 70 in the first innings, followed up with a patient and skilful unbeaten 89 second time around, compiled from 154 balls in 222 minutes.
The Surrey wicketkeeper shared partnerships of 66 with Middlesex opener Nick Gubbins, who was fifth out after grafting to 53 from 152 balls, and 51 with the Lions captain Toby Roland-Jones.
“In both innings, Ben’s come in when we’ve lost a couple of quick wickets, and we were under pressure again when he came in today at 68 for four,” said Thorpe, the ECB’s lead batting coach. “So he’s showed good composure, temperament and technique as well. Putting the scores together on this pitch, he’s showed a really good method.
“Their legspinner Rashid bowled well, very tidily, he puts you under pressure, and he’s got a good googly on him - so Ben showed good skill being able to play the situation. His play against spin has really improved. I’ve always thought he’s got good footwork, but you get the belief and the confidence by doing it out in the middle.
"From that perspective he’s put in two really good batting performances in this match. We’d have liked a lot more for them to chase down, but those three wickets at the end from the Curran boys gives us a chance tomorrow.”
But there was no denying Rashid top billing in front of a small but highly enthusiastic crowd of Afghanistan supporters at the Zayed Cricket Stadium.
He had made quite an impression with four for 48 in the first innings but proved even more of a handful in the second, ending with eight for 74 from 35 overs – giving him astonishing match figures of 12 for 122 on his first-class debut.
Congratulation! Rashid Khan— Afghan Cricket Board (@ACBofficials) December 9, 2016
Rashid Khan took 12 wickets to fall on Day 3 against England Lions.
Bravo Rashid Khan pic.twitter.com/4q84dpHpbo
Lalchand Rajput, Afghanistan’s experienced Indian coach, revealed afterwards that Rashid had only played T20 and 50-over cricket since playing in the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh earlier this year. “I think he has bowled superbly in this game,” said Rajput.
“He came from the under-19s and he was playing a lot of one-day cricket and T20 – this is the first four-day game he has played, and he has really done well. That shows that he’s ready for all formats. We picked him because sometimes the wrist spinners you just get naturally – he is one of those.”
The Lions were all out for 210 in their second innings, leaving Afghanistan needing 217 to win – and Tom Curran struck a huge double blow in his first over, pinning Javed Ahmadi lbw then having Rahmat Shah snapped up by Ollie Rayner at second slip in the space of three balls.
Curran’s younger brother Sam chipped in with the wicket of Afsar Zazai, lbw to his second ball, and the Afghans closed on 18 for three – needing another 199 to win.
The day had started with Roland-Jones taking less than an over to collect the last wicket of Afghanistan’s first innings, completing figures of six for 73. The Lions lost Tom Alsop in the fifth over of their second innings, edging to second slip where Rahmat claimed a low catch.
But Tom Westley, who had top-scored with 84 in the Lions’ first innings, started well again and shared a stand of 44 with Gubbins until he was lbw to Rashid’s googly. Joe Clarke was bowled by Rashid for the second time in the match four overs later, and the legspinner then switched ends to have Liam Livingstone lbw sweeping and leave the Lions tottering on 68 for four.
Foakes joined Gubbins to steady the ship and the pair batted deep into the afternoon session until another flurry of wickets before tea. They all went to Rashid - Gubbins adjudged caught behind off the bottom edge, Sam Curran edging the next ball, and Tom lbw to another googly, although in his case on the front foot.
At 152 for seven, the Lions were only 158 ahead, and seemingly short of a defendable total. So the 51 added by Roland-Jones and Foakes were precious, although the last three wickets tumbled quickly as Roland-Jones was yorked by the young Afghan seamer Karim Janat, Rayner was given caught behind off Rashid, and finally Jack Leach popped a catch to short leg.
Foakes ran out of partners after hitting nine fours and a six, but the late treble from the Curran brothers left the game finely balanced going into the last day.