Afghanistan have knocked the Lankan Lions out of the Asia Cup….
With just 6 teams playing in the Asia Cup, all the teams were very much going to be contenders to win the coveted trophy. While some teams like India and Pakistan start the tournament as favourites, one cannot deny the fact that other teams like Afghanistan and Bangladesh also have what it takes to go all the way. We are just three days into the tournament and we already have 5-time champions Sri Lanka crash out of the tournament due to their woeful performances in the matches against Bangladesh and also against Afghanistan.
Now, Afghanistan is not a team that you will associate with winning big tournaments. Yes, they are a talented bunch, capable of giving a scare or two and could also win a match here and there. But to win a multi-team tournament seems to a bit far-fetched. If you had seen the way Afghanistan played against Sri Lanka on Monday, you will have to think again about their chances. They played like true champions. They batted sensibly and then with the ball they put on a magnificent show. Their 91-run win over Sri Lanka is just one step closer in ensuring that they are not referred to as ‘minnows’ anymore and are taken more seriously by everyone across world cricket. It is a slap in the faces of anyone who believed that Afghanistan are in the tournament just to make up the numbers.
The Afghans have produced some excellent cricketers over the years, who have put in some superb individual performances. But they have very rarely played like a team, barring a few individual sparks. Granted, they are a force to be reckoned with in T20 cricket, but the ODI and the Test arena are a completely different ball game.
They learnt the lesson the hard way when they were thrashed by an innings in their first ever Test against the No. 1 ranked side India. They learnt that the line and length, shot selection and temperament required is different when it comes to Test cricket. Even the 50-over format needs tremendous skill sets. To have the skills is one thing, but to actually execute it successfully is what is the difference between victory and losses.
Sri Lanka have not been in the best of forms in ODIs of late and it was perhaps a perfect time to play them. That still doesn’t mean that they are a bad side and could be taken for granted. Afghanistan’s top 3 got runs, with the No. 3 batsman Rahmat Shah contributing 72 off 90. The middle-order and lower order did not score heavily, but did just about enough to reach a par score. Sri Lanka would have known that they have enough batsmen to chase 5 an over but little did they account for how well the Afghan bowlers would bowl.
Afghanistan used their spinners – Mujeeb ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan – to excellent effect with pacers Aftab Alam and Gulbadin Naib too doing their bit. It was hot and humid at Abu Dhabi and the dew would have surely come into play in the second innings. However, the Afghan bowlers controlled the ball extremely well and did not let that affect their performances. They did their homework wonderfully on the Lankan players and barely gave them a loose ball to put away. This sort of bowling performance would have perhaps put away any opposition.
Despite this win, Afghanistan cannot take things lightly or get carried away by this one-off performance. They have come a long way, overcome many obstacles to become the team they are today. In such a short span of time, they are also playing Test cricket, which many nations only dream about. It would be unwise of them to let such opportunities slip them by.
Afghanistan play Bangladesh on Thursday and the result of the match is not going to make much of a difference to these teams as they are already through to the last four. However, a win for Afghanistan will ensure that they finish top of their group, which in itself is a huge achievement.
Both teams have one thing in common – They have thrashed Sri Lanka in their respective matches. Other than that both were associate nations at one time and it’s their dedication and hard work that has brought them this far. From being just another team to the entire world taking notice and also fearing a loss, these teams deserve every bit of success that comes their way.
All of Afghanistan would have celebrated last night after their team entered the final 4, but more importantly did so by beating former World Cup winners, Sri Lanka. Given the speed Afghanistan have progressed in international cricket, we will not be surprised if they manage to notch up a win or two in the ICC World Cup 2019. This is just the beginning of big things for Afghanistan.