Afghanistan were the most consistent side in the Asia Cup. And, arguably, they deserved to be the first team to qualify for the final. However, they were out of the race before their final Super Four clash – against India in Dubai on Tuesday.
Against an admittedly depleted Indian line-up missing five main players – six if you include Virat Kohli – the Afghans ensured they made the biggest statement of the tournament in the final over of their tournament.
India needed seven for victory with one wicket in hand and even after Ravindra Jadeja smashed a four off the second ball, Rashid Khan didn’t lose his composure. India needed one from two balls but smart field placing saw Jadeja lob the ball towards midwicket where Najibullah Zadran completed a brilliant running catch.
After the match, captain Asghar Afghan had quite a lot to say. “I was sure (we would) play the final. The conditions in Dubai favoured us,” Afghan said. “No one has played here as much as we have. However it was our hard luck that we had our matches in Abu Dhabi. If we had played in Dubai, I can guarantee we would have played the final.”
Even with the most gruelling schedule among all teams – they travelled from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and back to play matches on September 20, 21 and 23 – Afghanistan crushed Bangladesh by 136 runs, lost to Pakistan in the final over by three wickets and again lost to Bangladesh by three runs in the final over. Just a little bit of luck and it would have been Afghanistan in the final.
Afghanistan, the most compelling team in world cricket, tie with India. 10 years ago Afghanistan were playing with Japan and Botswana.— Tim (@timwig) September 25, 2018
The common theme in every Afghanistan performance is the complete absence of fear, total commitment and a perpetual faith in winning a match from any position.
India were coasting at 110 for no loss and then later 204-4 chasing 253. Most teams would have lost hope at either juncture. But no Afghan bowler or fielder pressed the panic button. Shoulders did not drop and there was no angry shrug of the shoulders. Just a steely resolve to get one more wicket and get into India’s fragile middle order.
Such dedication for victory is rare to see on a cricket field. Even the best of teams give up the chase at one point and look to mitigate their losses, preserving their resources and energy. But not Afghanistan. Even in an inconsequential match.
Afghanistan captain Asghar said his team’s performance in the Asia Cup has sent out a warning to all teams at next year’s World Cup. They have spinners who can bowl on any surface and are waiting for main fast bowlers like Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran to regain their fitness. If that happens, they will pose a serious threat in white ball cricket – anytime, anywhere and against anyone.
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The Afghanistan Cricket Board is confident the upcoming Afghanistan Premier League (APL) will be held without any hitch and steer clear of any corruption.
The inaugural APL will take place from October 5-23 at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium with five franchises fighting it out over 23 matches. Among those competing in the league include star names such as Shahid Afridi, Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Shoaib Malik among a host of renowned Afghan faces like Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Zadran. The teams have been split on provincial lines in Afghanistan; Kabul, Kandahar, Nangarhar, Paktia and Balkh.
The league was hit by controversy this week with the news that Afghan wicket-keeper Mohammed Shahzad was approached by suspicious individual/s during the ongoing Asia Cup. The APL was reported to be the subject of the corrupt approach.
However, Basheer Stanikzai – tournament director of APL – said there is no reason to panic as there are enough safeguards in place to prevent any mishap.
“If players are suspicious, they must report. It wasn’t serious, but we told him (Shahzad) to report this,” Stanikzai said in Dubai.
“We have got services of ICC Anti-Corruption unit. They are handling it along with our anti-corruption officers. Whoever comes on board, we send all details to ICC Anti-Corruption department. We ourselves we double checks.”
The league has been up an running for barely a month. Team owners and player drafts were finalised just weeks ago and that means ACB don’t have as much time as they want to prepare for the inaugural tournament. However, Stanikzai said they will put their best foot forward.
“First year is always challenging. We are getting there, everything is in place. Draft is done, teams are selected. We have done everything, whatever is required. Just a few days are remaining and we are hopeful it will be a successful league.”
The Afghanistan board is also looking at India as a possible venue for future editions as they already have a base in the country and a sizeable Pathan population in the subcontinent.
“We are thinking (of India) for the future. First few years it will be in the UAE as we have lot of supporters here. However when we played the last series against Bangladesh in Dehradun (north India), we felt like we were playing in Kabul. Those are in plans and we will discuss with BCCI when we can take the league to India.”
Afghanistan can no longer be called minnows of world cricket. They are a Test team now, even though their first match against India was a two-day disaster.
Nonetheless, the Afghans need to be taken seriously in white-ball cricket especially since they have two world-class wrist spinners in Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman.
Afghanistan are clubbed with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Asia Cup, which makes it very tough for them to make the Super Four stage.
Here we take a look at their chances in the UAE.
COACH – PHIL SIMMONS
The West Indian has a tough challenge ahead of him. Asian teams in familiar conditions over 50 overs will truly show how good his team is. A coach with a lot of experience under his belt so should help the team stay on track.
CAPTAIN – ASGHAR AFGHAN
Experienced hand who will see the tournament as an opportunity to show his players are not just T20 specialists. Important part of middle order. Has changed his name in honour of his countrymen. Will need that passion on the field.
STAR MAN – RASHID KHAN
White ball, dry pitches. Expect the leggie to turn up the heat. Has experience of conditions, plus took eight wickets in three ODIs in Ireland. So, in form. If he gets going, will run through most sides.
ONE TO WATCH – MUJEEB UR RAHMAN
The mystery spinner can be lethal on UAE pitches and batsmen should expect a tough time against him. His 10 overs will be critical. His economy is his big strength and those who haven’t faced him can find it very tough.
STRENGTHS – SPIN AND LOCAL KNOWLEDGE
Spinners are Afghanistan’s strength and they have two world-class operators. Plus, have played a lot in UAE so know how the weather and pitch will behave. Should be at home in UAE’s September heat.
WEAKNESSES – LACK OF SURPRISE FACTOR
Most teams now know what to expect against Afghanistan. Also, their top order batting doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Much depends on their bowling and a handful of batsmen – Mohammad Shahzad, Afghan and Mohammad Nabi.
PREDICTION – GROUP STAGE
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have enough quality to make it to the Super four stage. Tough to see Afghanistan beating them over 50 overs in familiar conditions.
Mohammad Shahzad, Javed Ahmadi, Asghar Afghan(c), Rahmat Shah, Samiullah Shenwari, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Aftab Alam, Ihsanullah Janat, Sayed Shirzad, Wafadar, Munir Ahmad Kakar
Monday, September 17
15:30 Sri Lanka v Afghanistan, Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi
Thursday, September 20
15:30 Bangladesh v Afghanistan, Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi