VEDANT SHARMA | 27 SEPTEMBER, 2018
Will Afghanistan leverage this performance to emerge as a true cricket playing nation?
The right-arm leg break bowler Rashid Khan was into the attack with India needing 7 runs off the last over and just one wicket in hand. Bowler but essentially all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja was still at the crease and knowing his ability, Indian fans started to celebrate.
The celebration was a tad premature, because the five deliveries kept the suspense going -- with all results still possible. On the second delivery of the last over Jadeja managed to hit a boundary between long on and mid-wicket which titled the game in India's favor. With this, the Indian team needed just three runs to ensure a superlative victory.
On the next delivery, Jadeja tickled one to the backward square leg which brought Khaleel Ahmed on strike. With two runs remaining, it was important for Ahmed to stick there and take a quick single and bring Jadeja back on strike. That’s exactly what he did.
That single ensured that the Indian team wouldn’t lose this contest, with all eyes now on Jadeja to propel India to a win. All India needed was one run, and what happened thereafter was a mistimed pull shot towards mid-wicket and Najibullah Zadran, who was sprinting in from the deep did the rest to deny India just that.
In that tie, the real victory lay with Afghanistan. The triumph that night belongs to them. A night that helped them overcome the two recent defeats and gave them their biggest result in ODIs, by their own admission.
It has surely been 11 eventful days for Afghanistan. Afghanistan has been able to maintain an admirable consistency in all three departments of the game, and for that, they stood out.
But what can be the reasons for this dramatic turnaround? What explains Afghanistan’s emergence as a cricket playing nation?
The Citizen brings you the 5 reasons why the Afghanistan team has been successful throughout the tournament:
1. Consistency with the bat
In Dubai’s scorching 41 degree celsius temperature -- it’s not easy to play every ball with full fortitude. Being consistent in this part of the world demands a lot more than just technique and skill and one will have to say that the Afghanistan team has been able to do that quite well.
From topping Group B to playing some excellent cricket in Super four, the Afghanistan team has stunned everyone. Having scored 240 plus runs every time they stepped on the field speaks volumes about their character and hunger to perform. Though scoreline doesn't do justice to their remarkable stint at the Asia Cup, the on-field show surely does.
2. Pitch assessment
The Asia Cup tournament has helped Afghanistan cement their stature at the World Stage, proving that they are capable of competing against any of the Test playing nations. However, a lot of credit for the consistency should go to their skipper and the team management, who have been able to assess the conditions pretty well.
In almost every pre-match presentation, the skipper Asghar Afghan had a clear head of what he should expect from his boys and what total they have in mind. In the five matches Afghanistan played in this competition, the skipper and the head coach both have looked calm and haven’t lost their cool -- abilities that go a long way.
3. Mujeeb Ur Rahman bowling at the start
With overhead conditions demanding too much from fast bowlers to come and bowl at a constant pace, it wasn't a risky but smart decision to give the new ball to the 17-year-old Mujeeb Ur Rahman. The pitch offered by the ground officials of Dubai and Abu Dhabi was assisting the spinners and Mujeeb was able to deliver his best.
In the first power play when only two players are allowed outside the inner ring, it takes a lot of courage to hand the ball to a spinner. Mujeeb, who carries a good experience behind him, knew that the batsmen will try to go hard at him to score some quick runs; he responded to this strategy with clever bowling. Managing a wicket or two in the power play for his team, he played a pivotal role in their success.
4. The Rashid-Nabi dominance
The two most experienced campaigners of Afghanistan's lineup are undoubtedly Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi. The duo have played a lot of cricket across the globe and have shared the dressing room with some of the greats this game has produced which helps them to bring in much-needed experience.
In the five matches they played, the Afghan team won two, lost two, and also played a tie. The two losses which came against the Bangla Tigers and Pakistan were also close encounters. In this period both Rashid and Nabi played some handy knocks and provided wickets at the right intervals which helped the team cross the winning line.
5. Not a one-man show
The enthusiasts who have watched Afghanistan play will agree that it wasn't a one-man show. There were contributions with the bat, or with the ball, or with their spectacular effort in the field, but the whole team was able to perform collectively. If there’s one secret to the team’s success, it’s this collective effort.
Going forward it will be important for the team to replicate this stint and get better with every game they play. It will be interesting to see whether Afghanistan can build upon this excellent performance and grasp the opportunities that will enable them to make a paradigm shift and emerge as a true cricket playing nation.