“The cricketing potential is huge. What they need is encouragement, not criticism. It’s not just about statistics. Our success is measured in many objectives for the individual and the team. Essentially we want to show progress and push the opposition as hard as we can.”
“We are just trying to help them along the way by improving standards. There aren’t too many countries where cricket is the No1 sport, so they’ve every chance.”
“In a country that only hits the headlines only when some form of disaster strikes, cricket is more than a mere pastime. It’s a potential lifejacket. It tells the world that the country has more to it than natural disasters, and it provides the people with a welcome distraction from their worries”
Although these quotes are similar to some of the words being bandied about regarding Afghanistan this week, they probably do not make great reading for the country for whom they were originally penned – Bangladesh. The words describe a country whose slow progress in the early 2000’s appears less and less like any sort of progress at all: only against Zimbabwe and what was essentially a West Indian ‘B’ team have Bangladesh found their level in Test cricket.
In limited overs cricket however there has been more success. Just two years ago Bangladesh were 2 (two!) runs away from winning the Asian Cup – a rare peak in performance which included scalps of both India and Sri Lanka. It was hoped that they would build on that showing in the 2014 Asia Cup, however a loss to a Virat Kohli inspired India (could Kohli become the greatest ODI batsman ever?) was followed by a performance which handed Afghanistan an historic first win over a Test playing nation. If David, used to fighting men of Goliath’s ilk, comes acropper against a fellow midget of the world…is this even an upset?
I wrote in October about Afghanistan qualifying for the 50 over World Cup in 2015 and like the cricket dork that I unashamedly am I had a quick glance through their stats to see if they perhaps had a world beater hidden away in there, or perhaps a core of solid players to build on for the future. Qualifying for the World Cup over nations like Kenya was certainly a surprising feat – in March 2003 the new Afghanistan was just two years old yet to even formalise a constitution, whilst Kenya were reaching the semi finals of the World Cup.
What I found was that the Afghans certainly look to have a solid enough batting line up for the level that they are at; they have four players who average in the mid 30’s with the bat in ODI cricket (Mohammad Shahzad, Nawroz Mangal, Mohammad Nabi and Samiullah Shenwari). In the grand scheme of things this is nothing outstanding in a world where stars like Virat Kohli are currently averaging nearly double that in run chases, but bear in mind that Bangladesh have just one batsman in the same bracket (the excellent Shakib Al Hassan). Of the four Afghans, it was Shenwari in this instance who hit a quickfire 81 from 69 balls to give support to Asghar Stanikzai (90*) and provide Afghanistan with a competitive total.
I also mentioned that Bangladesh appear to meet that time-honoured subcontinental tradition of being able to squeeze the enjoyment out of the middle of a 50 over innings by taking pace off the ball – Shenwari (1-23 from 6 overs) and Hamza Hotak (0-24 from 7 overs) fulfilling this role excellently in Fatullah. However what really stands the Afghan’s out is the two opening ‘quick’ bowlers Shapoor Zadran (2-39) and Hamid Hassan (2-26). With ODI averages of 27.15 and 18.94 respectively they have all the makings of a stronger new ball pair than Bangladesh have ever been able to boast. In this respect the Afghans are more in line with Pakistan in terms of cricketing heritage than Bangladesh. It is difficult to compare ODI averages like-with-like between two nations of a full ICC member and an Associate Member due to the nature of their respective regular opposition, but given Hassan especially is supposed to hit 90+mph, this Afghan side look like being capable of more than simply making up the numbers in NZ & Australia in 2015 – unlike, dare I say it, Bangladesh.