It has been rightly said, that it will always come down to ‘Who Wants It more?‘
Prior to the start of the six-nation Asia Cup, every cricket-pundit expected an India-Pakistan final, with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh being the other two teams to qualify for the Super Four stages.
But look what happened.
In a span of just 13 days, there were some dramatic turnarounds with Hong Kong managing to give India some butterflies in the stomach; nearly crossing the winning line. On the other hand, the Sri Lankan team, which was certain to make its way through to top four, was sent home by the Bangla Tigers, with the Afghans clinching two scintillating performances.
Did Pakistan expect the performance they eventually unfolded?
They managed to win twice in five games. What happened to them?
However, there was one team that commanded headlines, nearly grabbing the bull of hype surrounding India and Pakistan by its horns and making it grovel.
That team was Afghanistan.
It won’t be wrong to say that they came into this tournament being the ‘underdogs’ with the presence of other giants around them. But it is safe to suggest, they managed to get rid of this tag with some courageous performances on their back.
The Asghar Afghan-led Afghanistan team managed to impress almost everyone with an all-around effort on the field. With their ability to run all four-nation close the Asia Cup – two wins, two last over losses and one tie against the India team, they showed the spectators across the globe – their rise is real and isn’t some flash in the pan.
There are fans. And there are ardent fans. Surely, every ardent fan will agree the rapid strides taken by Afghanistan in this sport are a tale that can inspire even the listless and most ignorant.
The Afghanistan you see today is steadily growing into a behemoth, whilst once it was entrusted with an Affiliate tag in 2001 after Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) was established earlier.
Moreover, the three games in the Super four stages that ended with two losses and a tie could have easily been three wins had the ‘men-in-blue’ had a little luck to their side- such has been their impact in the Asia Cup.
Though India clinched their seventh Asia Cup title, Afghanistan have been able to leave a mark on the cricket field and will be widely remembered by fans across the globe for their fighting performance.
They have the willingness to get better than before and that has been their key to success. This is a rare quality.
It will help this budding team to strive the unimaginable goals and become what they’re destined to – a promising side.
Their steady rise from Division five at the World Cricket League to Division three in no time, to getting the ODI status, albeit within just four years – has been nothing short of phenomenal.
In a lighter vein, their rise to prominence has been quicker than West Indies’ fall from glory.
In a country where it’s still difficult for the women to go on the terrace; where a journalist still thinks thrice before publishing a critique; in a country where it’s often easier to think than ‘being’- it has been a remarkable feat.
Big credit for this paradigm shift should also go to their management that has done well assort talents like Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad, Shahidi, and many other to trust that one-dimensional goal – a win.
The tournament also reflected how much the side has improved in terms of batting and fielding. Almost everyone knew the team’s skills with the ball, but the steady rise in the other two departments have helped them to shine at the World Stage.
With some seriously talented players still trying to be in the scheme of things, the future of Afghanistan Cricket looks bright. They are moving on the right road and it will be important for the team to move ‘together’ and perform collectively. The next big task for them will be a tournament that’s precious for a cricketer’s life.
The ICC World Cup which is scheduled to be played in 2019.
It will be interesting to see how well they perform in those conditions under supreme pressure. With Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) organizing a T20 league this year, it will be a pivotal task for all Afghan players to learn as much as they can from the overseas players and their respective experience.
In the end, victory is all that matters and Afghanistan team will look to learn as how they can turn the table in their favor.
Now that they’ve made their presence felt, a question remains. Will they be able to continue this dream stint?