World Cup: Afghanistan - a perfect mix of passion, dedication and determination

Having a perfect mix of passion, dedication and determination, Afghanistan could be lethal in the shorter formats of the game and possibly that’s the reason, as the 50-over World Cup nears, most of the participating teams are wary of the team.

Some members of the Afghanistan World Cup cricket team at the British embassy in Kabul, ahead of their departure for the event.   -  AFP

As the Afghanistan players sweated it out in the nets on the eve of their first-ever Test match in Bengaluru, the team captain, Asghar Afghan, was asked if he was feeling the pressure of leading the side against a heavyweight Indian team.

He came up with a prompt reply, “Tension? I am hearing it for the first time…”

It’s a different story that inexperienced Afghanistan was crushed by India in the next two days, but the fact that the team captain exuded confidence before taking on one of the top teams in the world gave a glimpse about his side’s character.

READ | Dhoni, through the eyes of family, teachers, friends

That was in June last year. And since then, the Afghanistan cricket team has come a long way — both in terms of experience and performances.

While it has focused more on the limited-overs series, Afghanistan showed improvement in Test cricket as well as it drubbed Ireland in a lone match in March.

At its ‘home base’ in Dehradun, the Afghanistan side — which had a perfect balance of experience and youth — toyed with the visiting Ireland team to clinch both the limited overs and Test series, once again making it evident it is a competitive outfit.

Though coming from a war-ravaged land, the Afghanistan cricketers have been able to prove themselves and the fact that Mohammed Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Zadran are much-sought-after players in various franchise leagues around the world proves that Afghanistan cricket is on the right track.

ALSO READ | Kuldeep Yadav - the accidental chinaman

Having a perfect mix of passion, dedication and determination, the side could be lethal in the shorter formats of the game and possibly that’s the reason, as the 50-over World Cup nears, most of the participating teams are wary of Afghanistan.

100

Afghanistan cricket skipper Gulbadin Naib, with his son at his side, addresses a gathering at the British embassy in Kabul.   -  AFP

 

“We are not the team anymore which just participates for the sake of it. We can do well, but we should play to our strengths and work hard,” the team’s opening batsman Hashmatullah Shahidi says.

While Shahidi is confident of his side’s chances in the World Cup, which begins in England on May 30, one wonders what makes the team so formidable.

“The side is well balanced and it has got some really good spinners in Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Zadran, who could be lethal,” the team’s former head coach Lalchand Rajput says.

Having seen Afghanistan from the time when it was an associate nation side, Rajput agrees that hard work has paid off for the dream-chasers. “They have taken a big leap and the journey has been phenomenal. There was a time when not many knew about the Afghanistan team and now, they are playing so well. It has been a fascinating journey,” the former coach says.

ALSO READ | Hardik Pandya, Team India's soft-hearted killer

At the 2015 World Cup, Afghanistan featured for the first time as an associate nation and had to be content with a solitary win against Scotland in the group stage.

But this time around, things look far brighter. To ensure that the players don’t have problems in getting acclimatised to the different conditions, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) organised a three-week long training camp in South Africa before the World Cup.

The side has received a booost with Indian dairy major Amul coming in as a sponsor for the tournament.

But as the Afghan players chase dreams in England, they also remember the sacrifices they had to make to come so far. With no facilities back home, the team had to shift its home base to Greater Noida in 2015 to continue with its cricketing activities. And with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) helping them, the Afghan cricketers have slowly made their presence felt on the world stage.

ALSO READ | Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the antithesis of a Merathiya

Things, however, became smoother after the ACB was given full-member status by the International Cricket Council in 2017. With funds flowing in, the ACB could afford to provide central contracts and other benefits to its players.

With the money part taken care of, the players have now found themselves on the threshold of opportunities. And with stars like Rashid and Nabi in its ranks, the young Afghanistan side has the potential to stage a few upsets in the World Cup.

After years of struggle, it’s time to dream…