14 March 2015
Afghanistan inspire in debut World Cup appearance
Afghanistan has charmed with its enthusiasm and their genuine excitement at having the opportunity to take on the world’s best players
Afghanistan won the hearts of cricket fans everywhere, not only for its ‘rags to riches’ story of players, but also for their talent and their determination to fight in every match they played.
Moments involving the men in blue will be among this event’s most enduring, from the emotional scenes when Hamid Hassan bowled Afghanistan’s first-ever World Cup ball in Canberra to the sheer joy in Dunedin when the team secured its first win.
This is a team which has won the hearts of cricket fans everywhere, not only for its ‘rags to riches’ story of players who started life in refugee camps before finding themselves on the cricket’s biggest stage, but also for their talent and their determination to fight in every match they played.
Likewise, they have charmed with their enthusiasm and their genuine excitement at having the opportunity to take on the world’s best players.
Afghanistan was given a chance to take on the biggest and best in the World Cup and while it was not able to defeat a Test nation, it was no easy beat either.
In the opening match, it showed flashes of brilliance but ultimately was undone by what coach Andy Moles described as a disappointing performance with the bat, before it pushed Sri Lanka in Dunedin.
Next came the historic victory against Scotland where Afghanistan fought back from 97-7 to win by one wicket in the final over, prompting celebrations from Afghans around the world.
Next came opportunities against Australia and New Zealand where Afghanistan, although ultimately outplayed by stronger teams, acquitted themselves well.
Had rain not figured heavily in the final match against England, it could have produced a different result entirely.
Speaking ahead of Afghanistan’s final match, Moles said his team had “huge character”.
“You saw it against the win against Scotland,” Moles said.
“Not many sides can come back from seven wickets down.
“They're a very passionate group of cricketers that have huge pride in their performance for the fans at home, and that's something that drives them.
“Every game we play we're publicising Afghan cricket. They've come a long way in a very short time, and they want to make sure in every fixture we play, we want to compete.”
For wicketkeeper-batsman Afsar Zazai, the tournament has inspired him to go home and work on his game against the quicks.
“We hadn’t faced a 150‑plus bowler before, and we faced bowlers like Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, so we’ve learnt a lot from this tournament,” Zazai said.
“When we go back to home, we will work hard on our game to get used to it with the pace and hope we get some more chances with these kind of big teams.”
Hassan said the chance to play some of the best players in the world had been an excellent learning experience.
“You can learn a lot from good players. My friend asked me before the game against Australia if I was scared,” Hassan said.
“There is no scared. If we play some more matches against big teams and big names … maybe we can improve more and more.”
Coming up against elite players helped Afghanistan in other ways as well, Moles said, recalling an encounter with Mitchell Starc after the match in Perth.
“Mitchell Starc did talk to two or three of our seam bowlers at the end of the game and one of the big things they talked about was their boots,” Moles said.
“We've got a problem with Hassan particularly, he has gone through five pairs of boots on this tour already, the soles keep breaking off, and Mitchell Starc brought his boots out and they discussed how he gets them made, where he sends them, and they did talk about some bowling.”
Moles said he hoped Afghanistan’s appearance in the World Cup would lead to more opportunities for his cricketers.
“(The tournament has shown) Afghanistan is not just a war-torn area. It's a promising group of cricketers,” Moles said.
“I honestly believe they could be like Sri Lanka in ten years’ time.
“So how good they can be? We need fixtures. Our facilities are adequate. We've got indoor cricket now. We've got an academy that could improve, but it's adequate.
“So we don't need so much in the way of new machinery and things like that. What we need are fixtures.”
Moles said Afghanistan had a plan to increase its exposure to Test teams, by offering its services for practice matches to sides travelling to Dubai to play Pakistan or to the subcontinent.
“In all reality people aren't going to say, ‘Yeah, we'll go play against Afghanistan’.
“We're going to be realistic and try to put something together where we can say to England next year, ‘you are playing against Pakistan in October, come to us a week before’.
“You want a four-day game, a three-day game, you want a 50-over game, a 20-over game, we'll do whatever you want.
“It will give a little bit of competition because we'll be trying a hundred percent, you can be sure of that. So hopefully that will be a win-win situation for everybody.
“That's the way we're going to try to tackle that issue.”
Afghanistan has come a long way in the 14 years since its formation.
The players will be better for the experience at the World Cup, while it is certain their brave performances will have inspired a future generation of players back home.
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