On the big day, pressure turns out to be Afghanistan’s invisible opponent

Jonathan Trott and Rashid Khan
Jonathan Trott and Rashid Khan (PC: ACB/X)

Pressure. Perhaps the most used word when it comes to sport. Everyone who has played sports will tell you there is always pressure. From fans, parent bodies, sponsors, family and most importantly from yourself. At the end of the day, a sportsperson is alone grappling with her or his own mind. A mind that is full of clutter and is constantly fighting to be freed. Of all the thoughts that keep flooding in, of the possibilities that keep disturbing the equilibrium and finally all the hope and expectation of what can be.

It is this pressure that impacted Afghanistan today. The desperation to win, that eventually made them succumb to the pressure. The process was sacrificed at the altar of expectations and the basics weren’t followed. There was no plan B. At 20-3, they should have changed tactics and tried scoring 120 instead of 150. Made sure they were competitive. Sadly they did not do so because they seemed overcharged. The occasion got to them and caused their downfall.

In trying to explain pressure in a little more detail, I will turn to a different sport. I will turn to Abhinav Bindra, India’s first individual gold medal winner at the summer Olympics. Abhinav, for the record, came the closest in Rio 2016, eventually losing out in a tie break. It was the closest one can get to a medal and yet not win. Was it pressure or was it just that moment? Again we will never know. But as Abhinav says, it just happens.

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Afghanistan batters getting out vs SA
Afghanistan batters getting out vs SA (PC: X)

When Abhinav was shooting the final shot, he was sure. There was no doubting his ability. Till the 17th shot he was in silver medal position and in qualification he had shot the best final round of 10 shots. But that one particular shot did not work. And he knew it the moment he fired. A slight shake of the head was proof of what he must have felt. Four years of work had come to nothing and it was a hard pill to swallow. Even for Bindra who had seen it all. 

Contrary to Rio, Beijing 2008 was different. The final shot from Bindra was a 10.8 and that landed him the gold. Micro millimeters between a gold medal and no medal at all. That’s how sport is. And that’s what pressure does to you,- make you the best or worst on a given day.

And that’s what happened with Afghanistan. Wild shots against Kagiso Rabada and Marco Jansen, uncontrolled aggression against Tabraiz Shamsi and false bravado against Anrich Nortje meant they had no total to defend. Gurbaz fell early and that’s when things started to go south. Gulbadin Naib wanted to hit every ball to Kabul and it was just a matter of time. Even Nabi, their best in many ways, fell to pressure. All he needed to do was bat deep and yet he looked restless or unsure.

It is not easy. Never is. But that’s what separates men from the boys. The best from the rest. From the team that wins from others who are good but not the best. It all boils down to pressure. It all boils down to who wants the world cup title that extra bit more and yet hasn’t forgotten the process that will get them there. While the Afghans have won hearts, the cup remains elusive. It wasn’t quite their 1983 in the end and that’s the harsh reality.

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