The incredible journey of Afghanistan's Cricket Team
A petite deserted low-slung pocket hiding among the population-boasted gigantic nations in the vast continent of Asia; between South and Central Asia to be precise- the foremost scenario that hits the mind when asked about Afghanistan.
Eking out a National Cricket Team was a distant dream, a couple of decades ago, for the war-stricken country. Things aren’t quite the same now when you see fans cheering their throat out and waving the Afghan national flag for their beloved players.
The journey is nothing but a story of a group of indefatigable troupers who, squeezing every drop of their blood and sweat, dismissively crushed all odds to currently turning into future potential world beaters.
“And another one goes. They just cannot handle the bounce, the poor Afghan batsman. They haven’t seen anything like this before”, the iconic Harsha Bhogle commentated in a World T20 match versus South Africa in 2010.
Afghanistan was reduced to a score of 14/6 in the first five overs chasing 140 displaying the yawning gap between a veteran and a struggling newbie, at least on the face of it. The fight paid dividends and six years down the line, Afghanistan have roared their way into the top 10 ODI teams leaving Zimbabwe and Ireland in the dust.
Afghanistan’s unflinching approach to the game is choreographed by Kabir Khan, their former coach. The carnival of glory when celebrating a wicket, a boundary or a win can surpass even celebrations on winning a World Cup.
The ecstasy associated with Afghan cricket success is reminiscent of Bangladesh’s early days’ victory lap. The base architected by Kabir Khan now needs to be polished by Inzamam-ul-Haq in a quest to dish out yet another Asian powerhouse.
The actual scenario in Afghanistan nothing, but abject. Apart from a few domestic games here and there, nothing major hasn’t been organised till date. Dubai and Sharjah are the current grounds where the Afghans play their home games.
Heartwarming to see India coming forward with a helping hand and gifting Afghanistan with a new home ground in New Delhi. Nevertheless, there are a few grounds in Afghanistan which can be potential venues for International Cricket.
It seems nothing less than a fairy-tale journey when you hear that Mohammed Shahzad and many other Afghans from being refugees are now travelling abroad and representing their nation boastfully. Kabir Khan had to convince the defying parents of Samiullah Shenwari who were against Cricket. No hurdle was intimidating enough to deter them into swaying away from the expedition.
The journey, which started back in 2001
Since bagging the affiliate membership status of ICC in 2001, Afghanistan didn’t take a step backward. 15 years after, they stand a chance of clinching the full member status of ICC, the probable fifth Asian side to accomplish the prestigious goal if ever it happens to be.
The World T20 in 2010 still remains to be their greatest moment, when a bunch of vibrant cricketers, led by Nawroz Mangal, proudly marched into the playing arena at Gros Islet vs India- it was indeed their maiden World Cup encounter and also their first against a full member Test playing nation. The day turned out to be even more impressive as Noor Ali Zadran crafted his way to a matured half-century.
2012 presented to the World stage, a paceman who had a run-up and a celebration identical to Shoaib Akhtar, who is always at the batsman’s face. Shapoor Zadran first induced an inside edge on the stumps by Gautam Gambhir and then a healthy nick from Virender Sehwag, reducing India to 22/2 after four overs. Victory didn’t quite shine in Aghan’s favour, but the learning curve was upwardly thrusting in a positive direction.
But one moment, till date, will remain perched on the top of the list of glorious memories- the boundary by Shapoor Zadran flicked away towards fine leg off the bowling of Ian Wardlaw preceded by a one-handed effort by Samiullah Shenwari’s 96 from 147 deliveries.
The boundary eventually gifted the Afghans their maiden taste of glory when they pinned down a fighting Scotland team in a Group Stage encounter of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup in Down Under.
Be it Shapoor Zadran’s beastlike run-up and open-chested celebrations, be it the M.S Dhoni reminiscent helicopter blow by the swashbuckling Mohammed Shahzad, or be it the fearlessly audacious strokeplay by all the Afghan batsman, every moment of Afghan Cricket is an event in itself that seems to bring happiness not only among Afghan fans but fans across the globe.
Perturbing the test playing nations
They strained their way to their first win vs a Test playing nation-Bangladesh in the 2014 Asia Cup. The sixth wicket stand between Samiullah Shenwari and Ashgar Stanikzai still remains to be the highest sixth-wicket stand in Asia Cup.
They choked down a vibrant Zimbabwe side in Zimbabwe, clinching the ODI series 3-2 and clean-swept them 2-0 in the T-20 series. The icing on the cake panned out to be their third consecutive qualification for the World T20.
More than one occasion they gave big teams a run for their money. The T20 World Cup is days away and Afghanistan may hurt teams big time, provided other teams take them for granted as easy pushovers. The current bunch promises more than a bright future but the actual prospect lies in substantiating the promise into something big, something that may write a new era for cricket.