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Afghanistan return from nowhere to qualify for WC 2019: The Asian side has shown the world its mettle

We sincerely hope that the country’s board, players and supporters preserve their cricketing greatness in the times to come.

Afghanistan team
Afghanistan team. (Photo Source: ICC)

The qualifier of the 2019 ICC World Cup which just concluded in Zimbabwe marked a transition in the world of cricket. Afghanistan qualified for the quadrennial tournament by beating Ireland by 5 wickets while hosts Zimbabwe, who have played in every World Cup since 1983, missed out after losing to the United Arab Emirates by just three runs in a rain-curtailed match.

The Asian side not only piped the African opponents by a solitary point to qualify for their second world cup but even went on to win the tournament defeating favourites West Indies by 7 wickets in the final. Afghanistan had made their World Cup debut in 2015 in Australia and New Zealand and defeated Scotland.

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But the way the Afghans won the tickets for the finals in the qualifying round gave the idea how much passionate they are about their cricket. Rashid Khan had a disastrous start to the tournament, losing first three games against Scotland, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong and were looking to bow out without a fuss. After their 4-1 win against Zimbabwe in the last series they played ahead of this tournament, it was a heart-breaking scenario for both Afghanistan’s players and supporters, especially the two-run loss to the hosts.

But then came the Afghans’ extraordinary turnaround. They beat Nepal by 6 wickets who in turn defeated Hong Kong, who needed to win that game, by 5 wickets to give Afghanistan a safe passage to the Super Sixes owing to a better run-rate than Nepal and Hong Kong.

If luck favoured Afghanistan in group stage, their hard work paid off in Super Sixes

But while luck gave Afghanistan a bigger company in the group stages, it was their sheer talent and hard work which helped Afghanistan complete the Super Sixes mission successfully. They beat the West Indies, the tournament’s favourites by 3 wickets in the very first game and backed it up with wins against the UAE and Ireland to finish second in the table after the Caribbeans and qualified for next year’s mega event. Afghanistan’s return from nowhere to qualify for the World Cup reminds one of the famous victory that Imran Khan’s Pakistan had bagged in Australia in 1992.

Afghanistan’s phenomenal rise in cricket

Afghanistan’s rise as a cricketing nation has been phenomenal. Nearing their 100th One-Day International in less than a decade, Afghanistan have won 51 and lost 45 while two have been inconclusive. For a team which is still considered a minnow, such record is extraordinary and better than some of the top teams in the world.

To be precise, Afghanistan’s success percentage of 53.12 puts them just behind Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and India and way ahead of other minnows. Even experienced like Zimbabwe (28 per cent) and Bangladesh (32 per cent) are miles behind the Afghans. In the Twenty20 format, Afghanistan have the best success rate in the world (63 matches; 41 wins; winning percentage 65.07). And in Tests, they are set to play their first against India in June this year.

Only numbers not enough to judge Afghanistan; one also requires compassion

Afghanistan team
Afghanistan team. (Photo Source: Twitter)

But it would be wrong to judge Afghanistan’s rise in cricket only through numbers. We must remember before judging the Afghan players that they have not been as fortunate as kids dreaming about cricket in India or Australia.

Many of the players who have made Afghanistan proud today were brought up in refugee camps in neighbouring Pakistan because of the acute political crisis there; did not even manage the daily food. Yet, they did not lose sight of their dream and the world is witness to what they are capable of today.

The Afghan players also face logistical problem in acquiring a visa to travel and they have no home grounds to invite other countries – such is the situation there. If Zimbabwe have shown how to dismantle a system into ruins, Afghanistan have shown the exact opposite of constructing the fortunes from nothing. No wonder the better side is set to play the 2019 World Cup at the expense of the worse.

Cricket has helped Afghanistan to live the bad times

Sports have always been the medium of accomplishments for nations and people facing great adversities. The West Indians had once made cricket the weapon to fight back against the legacy of colonial discrimination; India too had once wrested the game from their former colonial masters. In football as well, we have seen unknown countries from Africa and East Europe making impacts at the FIFA World Cup.

These are occasions of national pride when nations took revenge against history without spending a bullet. Afghanistan are going through a similar phase now whereby cricket sees them bringing their countrymen moments of happiness, pride and also come closer to solidarity.

They are politically a fragmented country with no limits but when it comes to cricket, all their fighting people – Pashtuns, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks – celebrate together. Seeing Afghanistan’s meteoric rise up the ladders of cricket within a decade of starting their journey, who would say that they are a nation in utter distress, surviving a day as it comes?

Mohammad Shahzad
Mohammad Shahzad of Afghanistan celebrates. (Photo Source: Twitter)

Afghanistan’s cricket story inspires us. Ashgar Stanikzai’s match-winning 39 against Ireland despite missing the group stage of the qualifying tournament because of appendectomy shows the hunger the Afghans have to succeed at the highest stage. Their phenomenal talent Rashid Khan is already a sensation in the cricketing world and the Indian Premier League (IPL) has seen that there is no dearth of cricketing talents in Afghanistan despite all the odds.

Their experience at the World Cups will make them even better side, as it had done to Zimbabwe in the 1990s. We sincerely hope that the country’s board, players and supporters preserve their cricketing greatness in the times to come. Who knows? Cricket could ultimately give the country the peace and us the entertainment we all so eagerly expect from Afghanistan.

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