After three losses at the start of the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018, Afghanistan’s campaign seemed doomed. Their ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 hopes were hanging by a thread.
They heard the snide remarks, asking them if they were ready to go to Kwekwe, where the play-offs were being held for those that had failed to break into the Super Sixes. They were reminded that the successful teams would be battling it out in Harare.
But Afghanistan didn’t just want to go to Harare, they wanted to go all the way to the United Kingdom for the World Cup.
They were hurt, but, believing in themselves and that “anything is possible in cricket”, they rallied around each other. So what if they had to make a detour on their way to the United Kingdom!
“Kwekwe to England” became a motivating mantra in the team. And when, after three wins in the Super Sixes and some other results going their way, they, along with Windies, sealed World Cup spots, the chants rang out loud.
They only got louder still when they pulled off a comfortable win over Windies in the final to take home the trophy.
Asghar Stanikzai, the captain, admitted that he felt doubts in the early stages. Confined to a hospital bed because of a surgery, which forced him to miss the group-stage matches as well as the first game of the Super Sixes, he saw that his team were having problems, with others having to take on the pressure in the absence of a regular captain.
“But it was important for Afghanistan. The people want us to win the cup. That’s why I wanted to come back,” he said, beaming after getting his hands on the trophy.
One of the stars for the team was wicket-keeper batsman Mohammad Shahzad, who picked up Player of the Match awards in the final two matches after having gone through a patchy run earlier on, and serving a two-match suspension along the way.
“My form is coming at the right time. I’ve played good cricket,” said Shahzad.
His 54 in the vital match against Ireland was followed by 84 off 93 balls in the final against Windies, a knock that featured some brazen hitting, as seen by 11 fours and two sixes. Many of those were followed by the batsman holding his pose for the cameras.
“I always enjoy batting. My job is hitting the ball, the people’s job is watching the ball. That’s why I’m not watching (where I hit the ball),” said Shahzad.
The team had learnt a lot from the experience, added Stanikzai. And now, with their maiden Test to look forward to in a few months, the skipper hoped more teams would be keen to play them. After all, it would be helpful all around to know who the opponents in the World Cup are.
Windies captain Jason Holder too was a relieved man as Windies didn’t slip up on a potential banana peel of a competition. “I’m proud of our boys. We came with a goal in mind,” he said. “In different games, someone put their hand up, more than one person who was doing it for the team. It was a total team effort.”