Afghanistan 130 for 3 (Imran 57, Ibrahim 52, Cloate 2-20) beat South Africa 129 all out (Parsons 40, Ghafari 6-15, Haque 2-43) by seven wickets
What began as a carnival in Kimberley, soon turned to a nightmare for the home fans as South Africa were bamboozled by Afghanistan's wristspinners to lose their opening game by seven wickets. Shafiqullah Ghafari was Afghanistan's wrecker-in-chief, taking 6 for 15 - the joint seventh-best figures in the tournament's history - as South Africa collapsed from 62 for 2 to 129 all out in the space of 16.3 overs.
For nearly that whole period of play, Ghafari bowled relentlessly from one end, troubling a batting unit that looked out of place against quality spin bowling. Once he put South Africa on the mat, Afghanistan's experienced batting unit - led by Test player Ibrahim Zadran - helped the visitors claim victory with 150 balls to spare, handing them a massive net run-rate boost. For South Africa, their net run-rate went in the opposite direction, and are now looking at the prospect of an early exit from their home World Cup if they don't defeat both UAE and Canada in their following games.
Afghanistan's victory should not come as a surprise. Two months ago, they lost 3-2 to India in a five-game series, but not before giving the defending Under-19 champions a scare in two of those games. Barring Noor Ahmad, the 15-year-old who recently became the youngest man to feature in an IPL auction, each of their players are regular members of their first-class teams. In Zadran, they even have someone who has played Test and ODI cricket for Afghanistan.
On the other hand, among South Africa's top six batsmen, only one - Jonathan Bird - has played first-class cricket, while their captain Bryce Parsons and Andrew Louw have played two and three senior-level T20s, respectively. Although their bowlers have more experience in senior-level cricket, they eventually had too few runs to play with. That gap in experience came to the fore, and has now made Afghanistan a favourite to progress to the next stage.
The day had begun with the opening ceremony at the Diamond Oval, attended by children from local schools, who saw a traditional dance show performed by 130 men, women and children from the Galeshewe local township. It ended with most of those schoolkids engrossed in their own little games of cricket on the grass-banks as No.5 Abid Mohammadi struck the winning runs in the 25th over.
Afghanistan's celebrations were muted, however, perhaps a reflection of their self-belief and confidence, as the two captains shook hands and brought the first game of the tournament to a close, much to the disappointment of the locals who began to exit the arena long before the game's conclusion.
The toss was won by South Africa, and after that, they were given a pep talk from former international captain Graeme Smith and past U-19 captain Aiden Markram. The Afghan players, instead, were spotted practicing their fielding in the deep, taking boundary catches in combination with other players that are now common in T20 cricket, before taking the field for the game.
For the hosts, their only bright spot was the third-wicket partnership between Parsons (40) and No. 4 Luke Beaufort (25). But it was sandwiched between a fiery fast-bowling spell delivered by left-arm seamer Fazal Haque - who took two wickets in his first two overs - and Ghafari's magic. After Fazal's early breakthroughs, Parsons and Beaufort put on 55 for the third wicket to restore some belief in the home crowd, but that ended when Noor was introduced into the attack.
Once Noor dismissed Parsons, it opened one end up, and Ghafari removed Levert Manje and Jack Lees for ducks in his first two overs. Noor then dismissed the set Beaufort, the sixth South African wicket and after that, Ghafari removed the four lower-order batsmen across his next five overs. In all, seven South Africa batsmen were out for 8 or less, and if it wasn't for Gerald Coetzee's 23-ball cameo of 38 from No. 9, South Africa could well have been dismissed for less than 100.
In their chase, Afghanistan found the gaps against the pace bowlers regularly to keep the scoreboard moving. Zadran's experience as a member of the senior Afghnaistan team came to prominence, as he anchored his team's innings with a 72-ball 52 while Imran Mir enthralled the crowd with some lofty shots, scoring 57 in 48 balls. Both reached half-centuries and fell only after bringing Afghanistan close to the target.