The Afghan cricket team has become the new face of the war-torn country; their journey reflects the passion of a cricket-loving and determined nation.
Afghanistan’s recent rise in cricket has provided the country with a new form of diplomacy; the cricket diplomacy. This diplomacy can help the country portray a softer image around the globe through the game of cricket.
It also brings hope to a country where the feeling of joy is long forgotten. The ‘blue tigers’ act as a uniting force for the nation that is divided on ethnic lines. The Afghan team is now out of the Asia Cup 2018, however, it do not only steal the show, but also won hearts all over the cricketing world. .
Afghanistan ended its Asia Cup 2018 campaign on a high by holding off India to a tie on Tuesday. The Afghan side bowled India out on the penultimate ball of the game, earning a well deserved and a thrilling tie. Rashid Khan was the man who took the final wicket of Ravindra Jadeja, in a game of constant nerves.
Earlier, their opening batsman and strongman, Mohammad Shahzad knocked a brilliant hundred in the game. Shahzad’s highest score of 124 laid the foundation for Afghanistan’s fighting total of 252-8 in 50 overs, before bowling out India in 49.5 overs for the same total.
Even as Afghanistan returns home after its courageous show, leg-spinner Rashid Khan is so far the leading wicket-taker in the multi-nation ODI tournament. The 20-year-old bowler has fetched 10 wickets in 5 matches. In the list of top run-scorers of the Asia Cup 2018, Afghanistan’s Mohammad Shahzad is at number three. He was getting the starts but could not convert them into big totals, before slamming 124 against India in Afghanistan’s last game of this year’s competition.
Another Afghan batsman, Hashmatullah Shahidi is at number four in the list of highest run scorers. He was one of Afghanistan’s most consistent batsmen in the competition, scoring 263 runs in 5 games, including 3 fifties. Muhammad Nabi also booked a place in the top ten run scorers.
Afghanistan’s National Cricket Team created headlines when it beat five times Asia cup champion Sri Lanka by 91 runs in their opening match in Abu Dhabi. This was Afghanistan’s first-ever win against Sri Lanka in a One-Day International (ODI) match after losing to them in the Asia Cup 2014 and the World Cup a year later.
A day before their game, Afghan captain Asghar Afghan warned that his team was not going to the Asia Cup ‘to make up the numbers’ but will be there to play hard. ‘We are not here just to play, but to perform. Our players have got enough experience of playing big international matches. They have performed well in leading cricket leagues, so we are hoping to do well in this tournament as well,” Afghan said.
The blue tigers of Afghanistan also beat Bangladesh in the first round. Apart from that, they lost to Pakistan and to Bangladesh in their Super Four matches. Their lack of experience in tense situations meant that they couldn’t finish off the games, however, both their losses were close fights and not one-sided affairs.
In true essence, the Asia Cup 2018 was a win for Afghanistan; a team that emerged on the international cricket scene only a few years back, succeeded in getting so much fame in no time through its extra-ordinary performances and sheer determination.
Afghanistan’s future in international cricket is surely bright, and in the right hands.
© Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) and Afghan Studies Center (ASC), Islamabad.