Could this T20 World Cup be Afghanistan’s 1983?

Afghanistan vs New Zealand
Afghanistan vs New Zealand (PC: X)

India start their Super Eights campaign on June 20 against Afghanistan. And that’s what prompted the thought. Could 2024 be Afghanistan’s 1983? Can Rashid Khan and the boys go all the way, where it all started for them back in 2010? 

I remember covering the Afghanistan-India game in the Caribbean in 2010. There was a certain curiosity about the Afghans. Insurgency or sport was the choice for many. They had chosen sport, and the rest was history. Since then, many like Rashid has gone on to become role models. They are superstars and play T20 cricket all around the world in franchise leagues, commanding hefty salaries. In fact, it isn’t wrong to say that these Afghan players perhaps play the most T20 cricket among all those who will feature in the Super Eights stage.

While it assures them of experience, having played the IPL for years now, most of them will be unfazed by pressure. Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid, Naveen-ul-Haq – each is now an IPL veteran, and that’s what gives Afghanistan a chance. It is a team that has most bases covered. With a very good left-armer taking the new ball in Fazalhaq Farooqi, they have the team that can trouble India. And Rohit Sharma’s team are coming off a rained-out game in Florida and a rather underwhelming leg in New York, making them vulnerable.

In many ways, the Indians are underdone going into the Super Eights. The openers, Rohit and Virat Kohli, haven’t got runs and the issues against left-arm pace remain. Saurav Netravalkar exploited them well and had it not been for a Suryakumar Yadav classic, the USA would have had a sniff. Farooqi will look at it as an opportunity to get at India’s top order. Barring Rishabh Pant, none of the batters has been consistent. Shivam Dube is still scratchy and Hardik Pandya has hardly scored. Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja haven’t been needed much, and if there was ever a game the Afghans needed to win,  the match-up against India is one.

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Afghanistan vs PNG
Afghanistan vs PNG (PC: ACB/X)

There are many similarities between Kapil Dev’s team and the current Afghan side. In Rashid, they have one of the greats of the modern T20 format and he is an inspiration to most. Nabi has been around for years now, and always had the talent. Gurbaz and company have matured enough to do what Srikkanth did in England more than four decades ago. On wickets where the spinners will always have an impact, Afghanistan could prove a real handful. 

Make no mistake, India will still go in as favourites. But against the Afghans, no team is safe. Even Australia will have to watch out for them, for Glenn Maxwell won’t be able to play a knock for the ages every time. Afghanistan did have Australia on the ropes in November 2023, and it was only a miracle that saved them. They will sure seek inspiration from that effort, and fancy their chances. 

For a team that has all the talent and experience, it could well be their moment. And from the perspective of the tournament, it could well be the story of the decade if they manage to go the distance. It will be the perfect underdog story of sorts, and give every country hope about what is possible. With passion and hard work, things happen. 

To close with Rashid – The best part is his temperament. At no point does he get flustered. He knows what he is capable of, and he also knows how to deliver under pressure. He will make sure his team doesn’t choke, and in key moments, he is acutely dangerous. Between him and Nabi, Afghanistan will know this is their golden generation. And this World Cup could well be their best chance to steal the thunder before turning a new leaf. Finally, things might get exciting, weather permitting, with Rashid and co. awaiting India on June 20.

Also Read: NRIs in USA and Canada slam ICC for washout in Florida