Rebirth of an Afghan dream in the islands of World Cup upsets

Afghanistan outclassed Afghanistan in one of the most memorable World Cup matches of all time. (PC:

The Caribbean islands were witness to some most memorable upsets in the history of the 50-over World Cups in 2007. Bangladesh practically ended the Indian campaign in the group stage in a match played in Trinidad. On the same day in Jamaica, Ireland sent Pakistan packing off the competition. Bangladesh later stunned South Africa, the eventual semi-finalists.

Seventeen years down the line, those pristine islands have seen one of the most stunning outcomes in the annals of the T20 World Cup. St Vincent was the venue this time, where Afghanistan inflicted a body blow to Australia. The same competition had earlier seen USA upset Pakistan, although that match was played in New York. This edition of the slam-bang World Cup has produced two stunning results nonetheless, which have the potential of changing the world order of cricket.

Unlike Pakistan who failed to make it to the Super Eights because of that setback, Australia are not out yet. They are still the favourites to reach the semi-finals if they beat India, because even if Afghanistan defeat Bangladesh, the Net Run Rate scenario favours the men from Down Under. That, however, takes nothing away from the achievement of the Afghans.

They had come very close to pulling off a heist against Australia in the 50-over World Cup last year. A Glenn Maxwell miracle and a catch dropped by Naveen-ul-Huq put paid to the dreams of the underdogs in Mumbai that night. Fittingly, it was Naveen who reignited the Afghan dream in Kingstown in St Vincent, by uprooting the stumps of Travis Head in the first over.

Naveen is a fiery character, who didn’t step back from a minor confrontation with Virat Kohli in an Indian Premier League game a few years ago. On this day, his reaction summed up the approach of his team. There was a pointing of finger telling ‘you know I can do this’ but not much of jubilation. It’s an upset as far as world cricket is concerned, but Afghanistan believed they could do it.

No doubt that a lot of this confidence stems from their spirited run in the World Cup in the longer format last year, when they beat England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Those were outcomes of a calculated and methodical approach, not rush of blood. They looked the opposition in the eye, refrained from getting carried away and downed fancied rivals in a cold-blooded manner.

The rush of adrenaline was perhaps more in St Vincent. But they still gave a distinct feeling that they genuinely thought this was within their reach once they got 148. A lion’s share of the credit for that goes to the openers. Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran shared an opening stand of 118 in just under 16 overs, which was not striking by IPL standards, but priceless considering the situation.
They are naturally aggressive strikers of the ball who could just as well been dismissed for 20-ball 30s. The duo showed astute understanding of the conditions and eschewed instincts to make most of the start they had got. Once they realised that they were in a position to set the platform for a formidable total on that pitch, they didn’t throw it away. This is called tactical maturity.

Sitting in the dug-out, Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott must have played a role in this transformation from out-and-out aggressive cricketers to a bunch which knows how to adjust according to the moment. Fire and passion are ingrained in them due partly to the strife they live through. But a clinical dismantling of Australia demanded more. There was no let-up and never for a moment did they fail to look the multiple-time world champions across formats in the eye.

Time will tell soon how far this history-making win will take Afghanistan in the ongoing competition, but something has become clear. They are not afraid of anyone. They had guts everybody knew. Now, they have the tactical discipline and technical acumen other than the skills to match the best. They will stare at you, no matter who you are. The Caribbean islands are an ideal place to see this.