Every lesser cricketing nation’s rise to the top consists of those few blips that push their progress back by a couple of steps. Tonight was Afghanistan’s such night.
After a sterling performance against India in their opener, Afghanistan entered the cricketing annals for the wrong reasons. Chasing a mammoth 197 for a win, the shell-shocked Afghan side was bowled out for 80, equalling their worst performance ever in this format.
They need not fret. There were obvious mistakes made in the field, but they were also up against the inventors of this format, the number one team and one high on confidence in recent times.
Afghanistan head-to-head with a side that probably possesses one of the best bowling attacks in the world. In the post-match conference India, Kabir Khan revealed that their strategy in the India game was to play out their best bowler R Ashwin and to go after the lesser ones. That practically included all the remaining ones.
Against England, there was nowhere to hide. There was Steve Finn running in at 90 miles an hour. And when he wasn’t doing that, there were Jade Dernbach and Stuart Broad troubling the batsmen with their changes of pace and bounce. Of course, the world’s second best spinner in Graeme Swann wasn’t too far behind either.
And rather unfortunately for them, they also ran into a rampaging Luke Wright earlier. Wright, who had recently scored a century in a T20 game in the Friends Life t20 and another one playing for his franchise in the Big Bash League, was in the mood to let go. Not too many could have stopped him.
That said, there were a few moments that continued to endear them to their fans. The first over that Shapoor Zadran bowled to Craig Kieswetter might not hold a candle to that Michael Holding over to Geoff Boycott, but try searching for any better opening six balls of a game in this format and you would be hunting for a pin in a haystack.
The four-over spell from Dawlat Zadran when everyone else was getting spanked and Gulbodin Naib’s fearless 44 when Afghanistan were in the danger of being bowled out for the lowest ever T20 score were all those small instances of proof that Afghanistan’s entry and acceptance into the big league is only a couple of blocks away.
Their fielding, however, will be a source for a big worry. In both these games, it had an amateurish look to it. Their coach Kabir Khan had attributed it to lack of big match, in-front-of-the-camera cricket but to do it in two games in a row speaks of technical deficiencies.
There were a few dropped chances in the previous game and the fielding looked far from comfortable against England too. In his post-match conference, Shapoor Zadran made no bones of how disappointed the side was with their efforts on the field.
The middle-order batting could concern the side as well. For a side that ran India close, they collapsed after a decent beginning. It repeated against England again. What they could work is on is batting under scoreboard pressure – a fact alluded to by Luke Wright in his post-match press interaction.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any quick fix to either problem. The more they participate in the big league, the more they will learn and if they are quick graspers – and one sees no reason to believe otherwise – they should be on their way.
Not tonight though, for it belonged to a cricketer who entered the tournament with two T20 centuries in the last 10 months.
Suneer Chowdhary is a Mumbai-based sports writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org