If Sri Lanka thought their World Cup match against Afghanistan would be a walk in the park, they were for a rude shock as they just narrowly escaped with a win. Sri Lanka were bowled out for 201 in just 37 overs against Afghanistan. They were cruising to a big total at 144/2 at one stage before a three-wicket burst in an over by Mohammad Nabi got Afghanistan back into the match. Sri Lanka paid the price of being complacent and were bowled out for a below-par score. Afghanistan lost the match by 34 runs but not before giving Sri Lanka a big scare.
Even in the clash against Australia, Afghanistan showed good promise with bat and ball when other Asian teams such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka were hammered by West Indies and New Zealand respectively.
Afghanistan were reduced to 5/2 before putting up a good batting display to score 207. However, Australia were too good for Afghanistan bowlers in the match.
But in the World Cup warmup clash against Pakistan, Afghanistan defeated the men in green comprehensively.
Afghanistan have performed above expectations so far
But what Afghanistan have done in the last two matches is that they have sounded out a warning to top teams that an upset is around the corner. Sri Lanka escaped with a win, but other fancied teams would not stand much chance if they take Afghanistan lightly.
In the recent past, Afghanistan have given top teams a run for their money although consistent wins against them have eluded them. In 2018 Asia Cup, Afghanistan managed to tie a game against India, while beating beating fancied teams such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the league stage, while Pakistan just managed a three-wicket win.
Their World Cup qualification is a part of cricketing folklore. In the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers, Afghanistan looked down and out after failing to win a single match in the initial few matches. With the Word Cup berth on the line, Afghanistan raised their game to not only make it to the final, but beat West Indies for the title. Hence, Afghanistan deserve to be in the 2019 World Cup.
Although they would be targeting a semis berth, they would do themselves proud if they can cause a few upsets and spoil the top team’s party. After Sri Lanka escaped from their clutches, they would be targeting a win against West Indies, whom they love to beat in limited-overs cricket, and South Africa, who are fighting their own set of demons in the World Cup.
A Pakistan or a Bangladesh win cannot be ruled out either. And if luck has their way and other top teams play poorly, they can well dream of a semis berth. But it would be pushing the luck a bit far.
Nevertheless, Afghanistan can take pride with the way they have fought in the World Cup so far. They have had Pakistan and Sri Lanka gasping from breath, while Australia were made to work hard for their win.
Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi are role models
Afghanistan are also developing a few stars in their ranks. The likes of Mohammad Shahzad, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan can well inspire generations with their performances. Rashid Khan is already a global name in the cricketing world with his exploits in various domestic T20 tournaments. Afghanistan need such role models to inspire their youth to pursue cricket as a career back home.
But at the moment in 2019 World Cup, they have performed above expectations, and send out warning signs to opponents who are set to face them next. Even World Cup favourites such as England and India cannot take Afghanistan lightly.
They know the World Cup has a history of upsets and has not been kind to favourites. Remember minnows Zimbabwe beating Australia in 1983 World Cup, Bangladesh beating Pakistan in 1999 World Cup, and Kenya beating West Indies in 1996 World Cup.
Afghanistan with their fearless approach are not here to make the numbers, but to give serious challenge to the top teams, if not a semis berth in World Cup. But never say no in cricket. Remember underdogs Kenya booking a semis berth with eventual finalists India in 2003 World Cup.