Afghanistan progress in stark contrast to how Bangladesh have stalled

Rashid Kahan after defeating Bangladesh
Rashid Kahan after defeating Bangladesh (PC: ACB)

RevSportz Comment

It’s 278km due north, as the crow flies, from the Queens Park Oval in Port of Spain to the Daren Sammy Stadium in Arnos Vale in St Lucia. A generation ago, in a rain-affected match in Trinidad’s capital, Bangladesh served notice that they could be cricket’s new force by knocking India out of the 2007 World Cup. But 17 years later, it was Afghanistan in the spotlight, with a thrilling win over Bangladesh that eliminated Australia and sent them into the ICC T20 World Cup semi-finals.

There was a certain pathos in seeing Shakib Al Hasan dismissed first ball, caught and bowled off the leading edge by Naveen-ul-Haq. All those years ago, in a match reduced to 21 overs a side, it was Shakib and Mohammad Ashraful who calmly piloted Bangladesh to victory against Bermuda after the South Africa-born Saleem Mukuddem had induced jitters with three early wickets.

That 26 not out came eight days after Shakib (53) and Mushfiqur Rahim (56 not out) had soothed Bangladeshi nerves with an 84-run stand that set up the famous upset win over India. But even now, that success remains Bangladesh cricket’s high watermark. Afghanistan, who weren’t even playing in the World Cricket League Division 5 back then, have streaked past to become Asian cricket’s emerging force.

At the 50-over World Cup in India last October-November, Bangladesh beat Afghanistan, but managed just one other win, against a poor Sri Lanka side. Afghanistan rebounded from that loss to convincingly beat England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and had Australia on the mat before Glenn Maxwell’s innings for the ages.

In this World Cup, Afghanistan have trounced New Zealand, and knocked out Australia. Bangladesh beat a dismal-again Sri Lanka, and ran South Africa close, but were comprehensively outclassed in their Super 8s matches against Australia and India. The lack of ambition they showed against Afghanistan – they knew chasing down the target in 12.1 overs or less would have taken them into the semis – was jarring when placed against their opponent’s go-for-broke approach.

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Afghanistan vs Bangladesh
Afghanistan vs Bangladesh (PC: ACB)

Back in 2007, Shakib was part of a group of young stars – Ashraful was the leader, but Mushfiqur, Tamim Iqbal and Mashrafe Mortaza all left their mark on the competition – that threatened to transform the country’s cricket fortunes. But for all his statistical excellence, Shakib was never able to script the kind of odds-defying tournament performance that Rashid Khan has in the West Indies.

For almost the entirety of Shakib’s career, Bangladesh have been also-rans. Their lone semi-final appearance at the global event – the 2017 Champions Trophy – came largely because rotten English weather led to two of Australia’s matches not being completed. Otherwise, save for the sporadic upset, Bangladesh have never built on the promise shown in 2007.

Afghanistan have, in contrast, streaked through the cricket world like a meteor. World Cricket League Division 5 won in Jersey, Division 4 in Tanzania, and then Division 3 in Argentina. Before most could even blink, Hamid Hassan was measuring his run-up – Rambo-style headband and all – at the World T20 in the Caribbean in 2010. And though their first two World Cup appearances (2015 and 2019) were very disappointing, Rashid’s advent and the development of a bunch of players he’s inspired has brought about this sea change.

Maybe it’s to do with the circumstances in which most of them grew up, surrounded by conflict and hardship, but the most refreshing aspect of Afghanistan’s cricket is the aggression with which they play. It doesn’t matter if it’s Virat Kohli or Travis Head, these players are not intimidated by anyone. They will look you in the eye and give it the best shot they have. It may not often be enough, but they and their fans will not die wondering.

South Africa next, on what is likely to be another tacky surface in Trinidad. The Proteas have skilled spinners of their own in Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi. But they also have ghosts in the machine. Rest assured, Afghanistan will make every effort to bring them into play.

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