T20 World Cup: Afghanistan— the humble heroes who proved Lara right

The semi-final is going to be a massive inspiration for the youngsters back home, captain Rashid Khan says

A jubilant Afghanistan team after reaching semi-final of T20 World Cup (photo: ICC)
A jubilant Afghanistan team after reaching semi-final of T20 World Cup (photo: ICC)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Brian Lara, the West Indies legend, turned out to be a soothsayer, for he was one of the few pundits who forecast that Afghanistan would be in the semi-finals before the T20 World Cup started.

Rashid Khan, their captain and a wonderful ambassador of the game, remembered to thank him as soon as the bravehearts sneaked past Bangladesh in a rain-affected game to make their first semis of a major ICC tournament, this Tuesday, 25 June, in the West Indies.

‘’I think the only guy who had us in the semi-final was Brian Lara. At the welcome party, I told him, 'We won’t let you down. We will prove that you are right',’’ Khan said after his team made history and sealed a last-four match-up with South Africa in a couple of days’ time.

Australia, the 2021 champions and the team with the most enviable record at the knockout stages of ICC tournaments, were left out in the cold — but they have only themselves to blame after the two defeats at the hands of the Afghans and the Indians, respectively.

There is no doubt that the Afghan fairytale has to be the biggest 'story' of this World T20, irrespective of what may happen in their upcoming battle.

While their rise against all odds has been well documented over the years, one vividly remembers the uncertainty surrounding the future of the sport in Afghanistan even three years back, given the fresh Taliban incursion in 2021.

"I think the semi-final is going to be a massive, massive inspiration for the youngsters back home in Afghanistan," Khan, acknowledged Cricketer of the Decade in the T20 format last time by the ICC (International Cricket Council), said after their momentous triumph on Tuesday.

That the Afghanistan team got into the semis for the first time...! We have done it at the Under-19 level, but (at) this level, we haven't done that. Even Super Eight was a first time for us, and then in semis...! It’s (an) unbelievable feeling…
Rashid Khan, captain, Afghanistan

"We are capable — but as long as we keep things very simple, and I think in the whole competition so far, we kept the thing simple. Yes, there were some tough times, but we didn’t let ourselves down and we always try to come back stronger," the leg-spin ace went on.

Looking back, one has to admit the big helping hand extended to Afghanistan by the UAE when Sharjah (read: Abdul Rehman Bukhatir, the livewire of the Cricketers’ Benevolent Fund Series) opened its doors to the Afghan national team, letting them use the facilities for practice. Then, the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) provided the team with practice grounds too, and has tried to accommodate them with matches in the white-ball formats.

"It’s so heartening to see Afghan cricket living up to [its] promise now," Mazhar Khan, former administrator of Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) and general manager of the Sharjah Cricket Council, told National Herald. "As someone who has been privy to their growth — [from] a fledgling member of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) back in 2003, to rising through the ranks as an affiliate, then associate and now full member of the ICC — we feel that we have been a part of their journey."

The performance graph of the Afghans — whose Test status, along with that of Ireland in 2017, had come in for a bit of criticism — has been steady in white-ball cricket, unlike a Bangladesh, say, which seems to have stagnated for a while. It was exactly 14 years ago that they qualified for their first ICC World T20 in 2010, playing their first-ever ODI against Pakistan in 2012 before the Test status followed.

Yes, they are very much a work in progress as far as Tests are concerned, but the Afghanistan which turned up for last year’s 50-overs World Cup in India promised that there could be surprises around the corner.

There were a few low-profile backroom men who worked quietly on their problem areas, like the art of building an innings and closing matches, pace bowling, etc. — head coach Jonathon Trott, consultant Dwayne Bravo and of course Ajay Jadeja, a canny thinker who was their mentor during the event in India.

A few days back, Naseeb Khan, CEO of the Afghan Cricket Board (ACB), confided that Jadeja, the former India captain and all-rounder, had actually refused any payment for that role. "If you perform well, that will be my reward," he had apparently said.

Surely, Jadeja will be a happy man today!

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines