Despite not making it to the semi-finals, Afghanistan continues to impress at the World Cup while playing in a foreign location.
Maybe it was Glenn Maxwell’s calmness that ultimately led to Afghanistan’s downfall. This team is known for their constant movement and restlessness. It’s evident in the chaotic nature of their attacking strategies, exemplified by Rashid Khan’s swift dominance, Mujeeb Ur Rahman’s deceptive fingers, Noor Ahmad’s impressive left-handed techniques, and Naveen-ul-Haq’s unique spin on Jasprit Bumrah’s style.
Mohammad Nabi’s resilience was evident when he played for Afghanistan against Essex’s second team in Billericay in 2006 and again four years later at their first World Cup. Their determination can also be seen in their constant international travels, as they have never had the opportunity to play a game at home. A prime example of their spirit was captured in footage of them joyfully dancing after defeating Pakistan, with even their usually serious coach, Jonathan Trott, joining in the celebration.
It could be argued that Maxwell’s fast-paced style of play was unexpected for a team always on the move. Despite struggling with cramps in the hot Mumbai weather, the Australian all-rounder relied on his hands to deliver a stunning double hundred at the very end on Tuesday. With their current score at 91 for seven and needing 292 to win, Afghanistan seemed poised for their fifth victory at the World Cup, which would have tied them with their opponents at 10 points. However, thanks to a determined Maxwell, a costly dropped catch, and their unfavorable net run rate, it is highly unlikely that they will advance even if they beat South Africa in their last group match.
Despite what may come next, this moment still holds immense significance for a team that has already experienced several breakthroughs. In 2015, Afghanistan’s first appearance in the 50-over World Cup was simply about participating, making their one-wicket victory over Scotland a memorable achievement. Now, four years later, they entered the tournament with a stronger reputation and Rashid’s exceptional talent well-known, yet they faced nine consecutive losses. The hope was that their performance would improve in India, a country they have called their temporary home for many matches. However, initial defeats to Bangladesh and the hosts cast doubt on this possibility.
A match against the reigning champions in Delhi proved to be the turning point for the Afghan team, as they secured a 69-run victory thanks to Rahmanullah Gurbaz’s impressive 80 runs off of 57 balls and Mujeeb’s strong performance. This led to discussions about whether it was the biggest upset in World Cup history, but England’s struggles after and Afghanistan’s subsequent wins against Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Netherlands have silenced those discussions.
Rashid remains the focal point, but the team’s bowlers have equally contributed, with no one taking more than 10 wickets. The top-order batting has followed a traditional approach, with the exception of Gurbaz’s aggressive play. The team recognizes the importance of balance in the 50-over format, as seen in their cautious chase of 283 against Pakistan with just one over to spare. Their top three run scorers – Ibrahim Zadran, Hashmatullah Shahidi, and Rahmat Shah – all have strike rates under 80. Trott may see similarities between himself and Rahmat, who holds the team together at No 3 and prioritizes the red ball over being a rebel.
A tragic event occurred during this story. Recent earthquakes in western Afghanistan caused a death toll of over a thousand. Rashid generously donated his match fees from the tournament to aid those affected. The backdrop of this sporting victory against Babar Azam’s team is Pakistan’s implementation of a new policy to deport Afghan refugees. Furthermore, there is the issue of the female Afghan cricketers who were given professional contracts in 2020 but were forced to flee the country after the Taliban regained control the following year. They currently wait in exile, feeling frustrated by the inaction of the International Cricket Council and knowing that, currently, only the men are allowed to dream of World Cup success.
The stadium in Ahmedabad, which can accommodate over 130,000 spectators, will host the upcoming match on Friday. The coin toss will hold great importance against South Africa, who have proven to be dominant when batting first but struggle when chasing. Their past scores of 428, 311, 399, 382, and 357 have secured them a spot in the semi-finals against Australia. However, they barely managed to win by one wicket against Pakistan, suffered a shocking defeat against the Netherlands while chasing a target of 246, and were recently bowled out for 83 by India.
Afghanistan will be buoyed by South Africa’s most recent capitulation and hoping that the Proteas, with another, bigger game already in the calendar, don’t dedicate their entire focus towards a group-stage hurrah. This may be the end, but another giantkilling will be graciously accepted.