Afghanistan’s ‘vibe’ was perfect, says batting coach

Monty Desai insists that even during tough times, the team’s players remained as a close-knit unit. He is “glad the boys could finish it smartly” by securing a World Cup spot.

Afghanistan’s players celebrate after beating Ireland to qualify for the Cricket World Cup.   -  AP

When Afghanistan lost three of its opening qualifying games, not many imagined that the side would eventually qualify for next year’s World Cup. As the team struggled in Zimbabwe, many got busy scrutinising the cause for the likely debacle.

But two weeks later, on Friday afternoon, the war-ravaged nation defeated Ireland to show the world it could beat the odds to book a spot in the 2019 World Cup.

While luck favoured the team, Afghanistan’s batting coach, Monty Desai, believes that playing together as a unit worked wonders. “Losing three games in the first round itself [crushes] all your hopes. Even then, the vibe was perfect. We had to ensure that we crossed the line in the right way,” Desai tells Sportstar from Harare.

Coming into the tournament as the favourite, Afghanistan lost track in the beginning. The absence of skipper Asghar Stanikzai in the initial phase made matters worse for the side. But Desai insists that even during the tough times, the players remained as a family.

‘Closely knit’

“Before the tournament began, we were in the same dressing room in Harare and we had put down a few points to find out what it would take us to play the World Cup. Our coach, Phil Simmons, maintained the fact that we remain closely knit as a family,” Desai explains.

Even before the tournament started, the boys chalked out a few points that could be used during tough times. “They suggested that players should support each other and there should be trust in bad times,” Desai says.

The batting coach, who took up the job earlier this year, admits that luck played a major role. “Nepal beating Hong Kong made us qualify for the Super Six. Then, it was UAE beating Zimbabwe. But we had worked really hard,” he says, adding: “When we lost three games, we could not figure out what was going wrong. We missed out some critical moments in the first part, but I am glad the boys could finish it smartly.”

One more hurdle to go

While Desai’s heart goes put for Zimbabwe and Scotland, two teams which played really well in the tournament, he feels the tournament has been scripted differently for all countries.

After making it to the World Cup, the team celebrated the success, but then, skipper Stanikzai has cautioned the boys that they still have a final game left on Sunday. “Our skipper said that it’s good to celebrate but as a unit we have a task in hand. That’s the final,” Desai says, making it clear that even though the final is inconsequential now, it means a lot for Afghanistan.

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“The players want to show their skills, and that’s why the final also matters. For all 10 countries, the qualifier has been like a World Cup. We are celebrating for sure but we have a job in hand,” Desai avers.

Opener Mohammad Shahzad, who was named player of the match for a brisk knock of 54, was relieved Afghanistan found form in time. “We lost a couple of matches but we played good cricket in the Super Sixes. We had to win this game,” Shahzad tells ICC.

‘We are coming’

The plan, however, was simple. “I was looking for the loose deliveries, I did not care whether (it was a) spinner or fast bowler, I went for it. I believe in myself and the senior management staff encouraged me. Today I waited for the loose delivery and smashed the ball. Let’s see West Indies, we are coming,” Shahzad says.

Afghanistan’s fairy-tale run in the qualifier, however, resembles that of Pakistan’s and Australia’s successes in the 1992 and 1999 World Cups. After three losses in its first four matches and a no-result against England, Pakistan had won its last five matches to win the title at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1992.

Similarly, Australia lifted the silverware at Lord’s in 1999 when it won six matches on the trot after making a dismal start to the tournament.

Can Afghanistan, too, win the title, albeit a lower-level tourney? We’ll find out on Sunday.

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