There’s something about the devoid, the starved and the restricted, the simmering desires which their sleepless eyes contain can do wonders when exposed to light.
Timeri N. Murari’s recent novel, The Taliban Cricket Club, chronicles such desires and their unrestrained urge to get fulfilled. Well-written or not, Murari’s novel is, in a way, far from the Afghanistan we had seen through the eyes of the earlier and more celebrated writers, and nearer to what the 2010 documentary on Afghan cricket, Out of the Ashes showed — the Afghanistan we revere, and no more sympathise with; the Afghanistan that loathes being sympathised with.
Cricket has been a unifying factor in the war-torn country since long, as it was, also, the only sport allowed by the Taliban during their reign. The fundamentalists who considered dancing, kite-flying and cinema as immoral activities, somehow found cricket to be “not against religion”.
When they step out against India on September 19, the Afghanistan national team, which only came into existence in 2001, will be appearing in their second consecutive T20 World Cup. They are ranked ahead of ICC full member nation Zimbabwe in the ICC T20 rankings and have a few promising players in their ranks.
The above stated facts and those unstated, all inspire. Yet we shouldn’t expect too much from them against a strong side like India.
After a defeat in their last warm-up game against Pakistan, India might need to give their bowling some thought. But still this match should be a smooth sail for the sub-continent giants. The batting looks in order with Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni in form, but the bowlers need to buckle up if this team harbours any aspiration of moving to the more crucial stages of the tournament.
The two teams have met once in the previous edition of the competition. India had won the match comprehensively at St. Lucia.
Afghanistan: 115/8 in 20 overs (Noor Ali – 50, Aashish Nehra – 3/19)
India: 116/3 in 14.5 overs (Murali Vijay – 48, Hamid Hassan – 1/8)
Result: India won by 7 wickets
“They were not letting anything go when they were fielding and bowling and it is a really good sign to see them play the way they did,” said Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
“This is a big day for us, qualifying for and participating in the World Cup. If we want to play the big teams more, we have to learn to play the international game. We want more international games,” said Nowroz Mangal, captain of the Afghanistan cricket team.
Players to watch out for
Hamid Hassan: The Afghans were relieved to see him recover from a knee injury which had kept him out of action since January. The 25-year-old six-footer came into prominence when he claimed 12 wickets in the qualifying phase of the World T20 in 2010.
Growing up as a refugee in Pakistan, Hassan picked up his taste for the game from that cricket-crazy land.
A well-built bowler who is capable of swinging the ball in both directions in favourable conditions, he should come handy for the Afghans against the Indian openers who are struggling since quite some time now.
Mohammad Nabi: An off-spinner, all-rounder Mohammad Nabi created ripples with his performance in the T20 qualifiers two years ago. He finished with 13 wickets and an average of just above 10.
With a 4-wicket haul to his credit and a batting average of 32.82, Nabi is very much what a team needs in the shorter version.
His other exploits involve a century against a MCC side with former English captain Mike Gatting in the opposition.
Javed Ahmadi: The 20-year-old opener comes to this tournament with a heavy baggage of anchoring the top-order, taking the attack to the opposition and also the fact that he has been called “the future of Afghan cricket” by his coach, might be doing inexplicable things in his stomach.
Afghanistan’s U19 captain, a while ago, Ahmadi is all of a sudden the centre of attraction in a dressing room full of hopes and dreams. But this isn’t for nothing. The aggressive right-hander was the third highest run-getter in the recently concluded U19 world cup and also holds the record for the highest individual score in that tournament. His unbeaten 134 off 111 balls against Scotland was studded with 17 fours and four sixes.
Yuvraj Singh: His return may not have evoked swearing like ‘we will win it for Yuvraj’, but Yuvi’s return surely has boosted the team morale. His faster-than-expected recovery from life-threatening cancer has surprised experts and fans alike.
But Yuvi looks in shape, or is getting back soon into. The most valuable limited over player for India in recent years, his earlier exploits alone should motivate him to perform again.
He pivoted India with both bat and ball in the ODI world cup last year, and Stuart Broad should be worried about being paired in the same group with him, if he hasn’t forgotten those six sixes.
Harbhajan Singh: It was surprising that he didn’t return back to the national fold earlier. Now that he has returned, he won’t want to let it slip out of his hands.
From being India’s premier spinner, to having to compete with players like Rahul Sharma and Piyush Chawla for reckoning, Bhajji has seen it all in the past year. At times, it felt totally unjust to deprive him of a chance of resurrection, but his poor form, even in the IPL, ensured that he could be avoided safely.
The off-spinner has a lot of international experience to boast of, which will come handy not only against minnows like Afghanistan, but more importantly in the later phases when India would be searching for a bowler in the death.
Virat Kohli: There is no doubt that he is India’s best batsman at this moment. Having conquered every form of the game, Kohli comes here planning to add more accolades to his already overflowing kitty.
A Dravid-like sheet-anchor with Tendulkar-like aggression, he combines the best of both worlds. What separates Kohli from the other youngsters is his hunger for runs. One just needs to look at the number of long innings he has played and his conversion rate from 50s to 100s to see what is being talked about.
At number three, Kohli will be expected to hold the team together. On his days he is unstoppable, and can be outdone only by Kohli himself.
India’s pace bowling, barring Zaheer Khan, is a real worry (this phrase has been copied from numerous previews written over the years).
Afghanistan may have potential but lack of experience will hold them back.
India has a far superior batting line-up.
Afghanistan will give it all, having nothing to lose (here’s how you use clichés).
Indians likely to have an early and merry dinner!