England felt resurgent after trumping South Africa in a record run chase, but little did that prepare them to be 56/6 under 9 overs against Afghanistan, the only associate team in the T20 World Cup super 10.
Afghanistan, like most countries got their first taste of cricket from the British. But through a century of invasions, and a regime hell bent on controlling every aspect of their lives, cricket didn’t have the same opportunities to blossom as it did throughout the empire. The first step to make it official started when the Afghanistan Cricket Board was formed in 1995, they may have played on concrete pitches using kits that were donated, but the cricketing seed had been planted. After finally being approved by the Taliban six years later in 2001 they became an ICC affiliate member. And in the space of ten years they received ICC ODI status. Since then they have been there and thereabouts, in cricketing conversations, especially with the media attention through the US invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrowing of the Taliban, but it wasn’t till they qualified for the 2015 ODI World cup and landed down under did they gain global recognition.
It’s not that England were cocky, after all they aren’t Australia, but they definitely did make the mistake of underestimating their opponents. They also didn’t respect the wicket as much as they should have and within half way of their innings the Afghans had them spun in a perfect web. England were struggling, and the Afghans were displaying what potential can truly become. Mohammed Nabi was everywhere, if it wasn’t instigating run outs, it was bowling his willy off spins and troubling batsman or even better, catching stunners at cover.
Most of the current Afghan squad learned their trade while in Pakistani refugee camps, fled to during the Russian invasion. The universal language of sports helped them overcome the frustrations of an oppressive bygone era. It gave them a uniting bond to connect with others. The beauty of cricket with all its romance and charm seduced them to a lifelong labor of love. Now nearly two decades later, here they were playing, no not just playing, challenging the oldest cricketing nation. Every time England seemed to catch a break and string a partnership, the Afghans were there to peg them back. Soon they were 85/7 with the risk of being bowled out with over a quarter of their overs left.
The light at the end of the tunnel was bright, the Afghans just needed to hang on for a few more overs. But the foresight of England batting till number ten with the calmness of Moeen Ali and the inexperience of a young team at the brink of creating history devised the kind of drama that you expected in an HBO series. Just as the finish line was in sight, just as they did with South Africa, Afghanistan imploded and the nineteenth over went for twenty five runs. This gave the English total a bit more respect than it deserved.
‘Life imitates art far more than art imitates life’ – Oscar Wilde.
In the true form of what life brings forth, the script wasn’t fully written in favour of Afghanistan. While it gave them the a chance of a fairytale ending it still kept them waiting. The well oiled English machine managed to stave off the passionate Afghan onslaught. But while England may have staked a claim in a semi final, Afghanistan awed the world and added more to the legion of fans they are accumulating with every game. They say ‘It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game’. Even with losing their three games the Afghans have epitomized this. They came into the World Cup almost as nobodies, fought for every inch giving their best, thrilling spectators with moments of brilliance and celebrated with genuine ecstasy. They may have had a tough start in the game but through a lot of hard work, a lot of passion and a lot of faith they have not only united their country behind them but also won the hardest of battles, the hearts of cricketing fans.
Vikus Vandersmurf is a Connoisseur of Cricket