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Waris: It's All in the Attitude - Afghanistan's Wondrous Rise in T20Is

Sarah Waris | Updated: August 27, 2018, 4:25 PM IST
Waris: It's All in the Attitude - Afghanistan's Wondrous Rise in T20Is

AP

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“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind.”

Generally regarded as the ‘Father of American psychology’, William James had a simple motto that threatened to change the way individuals would henceforth go about their everyday process. Slight shifts in the dynamics of the mind were all that were needed before the magnitude of one’s worth came dawning. For long, the ordinary being had regarded himself as a mere mortal but the secret to success lay in his ability to shrug off his commonness and to just believe.

Believe in his power and in his ability to win over the world.

Arising from the same school of pragmatism is the Afghanistan cricket team who realistically set their plans for the future one step at a time when they entered the World Cricket League Division 5 in 2008 for the first time. Though initial recognition came early, when they participated in the World T20 two years later, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) was aware that unless steady progress was made, the initial euphoria could be cast away forever. But nothing could drastically change unless the bunch of refugees who were tied together to play cricket for their nation believed.

Believed in their power and in their ability to win over the world.

Over the last few years, Afghanistan have rapidly grown as a cricket nation and can be termed stronger than the likes of Zimbabwe, Ireland, and even Bangladesh who have been around for much longer. This rise has not only to do with their growing stature as a country where fine raw talent is available but also in a marked shift in attitude, where the players hardly hesitate in sounding a warning bell.

Captain Asghar Stanikzai had barely quivered when proclaiming way back in the 2016 T20 World Cup that his team shall beat Full Members “very easily” in the next two years. An assessment of the above statement would then, only be fair. Since the beginning of this year, the Afghans have played 20 matches across all formats, losing just five. They have managed to win all seven T20Is that they have played and also showed their mettle in the 50-over format by qualifying for World Cup next year. After struggling to find their momentum in the first few matches of the World Cup Qualifiers, the group of extremely talented players stuck around and went on to win the tournament.

In February, Mohammad Nabi, Afghanistan’s warhorse ensured that his team started 2018 on a winning note by smashing a 27-ball 40 after Rashid Khan's economical spell had restricted Zimbabwe to a total of 120. The two players were at it again in the second T20I game of the series, with the all-rounder walloping away to 45 in 26 balls after hitting four huge sixes. Rashid, with Mujeeb Ur Rahman then stalled the flow of runs to hand Afghanistan the series 2-0.

However, it was the T20I series against Bangladesh in their adopted home of Dehradun, just days before their Test debut, that showed that Afghanistan are a side to reckon with in the shortest format of the game. If it was Shafiqullah’s quickfire 24 in 8 balls that pushed the total to a competitive 167 in the first game, it was a steady but mature display by the batting unit that won them the second T20I.

rashid khan

The one-run win to wrap up the series 3-0 though was the ultimate display of character, with Shafiqullah swerving to his left even as Bangladesh needed 4 off the last ball to win. Ariful Haque had done well to hoick away a shorter ball by Rashid towards long-on but the Superman-like efforts denied him the crucial third run. Under immense pressure, with a packed house around, Afghanistan had pounced to make a statement.

They were no longer the babies. No longer the team from a land where Taliban and terror ruled. No longer a unit that won only hearts. And no longer a side where winning consistently was a far-fetched dream.

In Ireland's swinging and overcast conditions, Afghanistan romped away to a 2-0 T20I series win earlier this week with Hazratullah Zazai leading the charge with the bat on both occasions. Nabi and Najibullah Zadran ended with a flourish in the second game to highlight the importance of all-rounders in the format. The continued efforts of spinners Rashid, Mujeeb and Nabi, and the support of pacers Aftab Alam and Fareed Ahmad have made Afghanistan into a well-oiled unit, with each individual bringing something different to the table.

Captain Asghar Afghan is not the biggest striker, but his calmness has rubbed into his team. Mohammad Shahzad is the uninhibited wicket-keeper who regards MS Dhoni as his idol and tries to bring back images of the Dhoni of folklore when he gets the chance. Najibullah holds the middle-order together and Samiullah Shenwari offers yet another option of leg-break bowling. Rashid can hit it long over the park as well while plotting against the batsmen and Nabi is one of the most consistent players. The bowling unit packs the punch; the batting intimidates and the talent pool that will be thrown up once the Afghanistan Premier League is launched can be imagined.

With Zahir Khan playing for Lancashire and with T20 leagues scouting for Afghan talent, cricket in the country is on the rise and the experience that these players gain will inadvertently translate into more international successes.

“In my opinion, we have good spinners, better spinners than India.” Even though Test captain Asghar Stanikzai’s words ahead of their maiden outing against India sounded atrocious in hindsight, if there is anything that psychology teaches us is that the human race is a mixture of strengths and weakness where no one has it all, and no one lacks it all. By accepting their power, Afghanistan have spiraled their way up and if their courage remains ignited, Full Members, especially in T20Is should beware.
First Published: August 25, 2018, 5:30 PM IST
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