Afghanistan’s cricket side have qualified for their second top tier international tournament, as they will take part in the 50 over Tournament to take place in 2015.
Naturally, this prompted me to re-watch a DVD I was originally bought by my partner, “Out of the Ashes”. It is literally the only time she has ever bought me a gift which exceeded expectations. First, it was a great shout. I don’t think she ever quite appreciates quite how much I like cricket. I don’t really talk to her about it, she doesn’t understand why I would get up in the early hours to listen to blokes talking on the radio. Second, it really is a great story with some genuinely great characters (“Taj” in particular), a ‘Jamaican Bobsled team’ type tale, equally unlikely as it is excellent.
However there is a slight difference between that story and this. Out of the Ashes covers Afghanistan’s cricketing rise in the iT20 format. Now, forgive me if I am wrong here, but it is the format which seems to lend most to the rural Afghan farmer trying to mow every ball through mountain goat corner. Bowl fast and straight, bat fast and hit the ball far. Simple cricket for simple people.
Now the 50 over format has been breached too. This suggests that there is a modicum of technical prowess than I hadn’t previously given them much credit for; the ability for a batsman to build an innings and the ability to contain in the field. So I delved into the stats: Afghanistan have played 22 ODI’s since attaining full status in 2011, winning 15 and losing 7. Among the teams they have scalped in the two years are Ireland, Scotland, Kenya, the Netherlands and Canada, all of whom have had previous 50 over World Cup experience.
Key to these victories have been the capability of several batsmen to build longer innings. Karim Sadiq (2), Nawroz Mangal and Noor Ali Zadran have all struck ODI centuries wearing the blue of Afghanistan, but undoubtedly the star of the show is wicket-keeper Mohammad Shahzad who has three centuries and three fifties. With Mangal, Mohammad Nabi and Samiullah Shenwari, Afghanistan have 4 batsmen who are averaging in the mid-30s, which is not a bad spine in the Second Tier of International cricket.
On the bowling front, much was made of Hamza Hotak after his spell of 10 overs, 3 wickets for 19 runs against Kenya secured Afghanistan’s place at the 2015 World Cup, but it is the pair Hamid Hassan (right arm fast) and Samiullah Shenwari (leg spinner) who have provided the most wickets for the side with 33 apiece. Hassan in particular is reputed to be pretty quick, breaking the helmet of Monty Panesar in a net session back in 2006 and showing enough potential to be asked to play for the MCC. His new ball partnership with left arm fast medium Shapoor Zadran (24 wickets at 26.04, pictured below) is one of the key reasons Afghanistan have been so successful. With all-rounders like Nabi (off-spin) and Shenwari bowling dry in the middle overs, on the right pitches Afghanistan become tricky opponents.
In spite of this promise, I do not think that there is much hope of the Afghans attaining Test status any time soon. I think every match would be over in 3 days, one way or other. Having said that, it ought to have been beyond the Afghans to ever reach a T20 World Cup, and I gave them no chance of achieving ODI World Cup qualification either. With the additional ICC funding that these achievements will bring and the massive black hole in an Afghan’s sporting and leisure calendar, could we be seeing the birth of the next Bangladesh? Or will they be allowed to go the way of Kenya, semi-finalists in the World Cup 2003? It is a situation which requires managing by the ICC and it’s leading member states, lest the natural talent and resources that are certainly evident in Afghanistan be wasted. And if they are relying on the ICC, well, good luck to them!