Just 7 years ago, Afghanistan were battling it out in World Cricket League Division 5 among such cricketing strongholds as Jersey and Germany. Now they stand just days away from a World Cup bow.
Their rise through the WCL and into the ICC’s showpiece event has been well documented in the past few months, especially so since their place at the 2015 World Cup was confirmed. Often billed as a romantic tale of talent overcoming great obstacles; be they political, geographical or financial. Afghanistan have now enjoyed ODI status since 2011 and continue to flourish within the associate game.
With the stories of Afghanistan’s fairy-tale story being banded about ad nauseum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they are merely a minnow, happy to make up the numbers, and feed off the scraps of world cricket’s top table. Far from it. They certainly wouldn’t appreciate the ‘minnows’ tag, and their captain Mohammad Nabi is on record as saying they are aiming for at least the quarterfinal stage.
If Afghanistan are to be successful in their quest of making it out of the group stages, then their first match will be crucial to their chances. They face Bangladesh on Wednesday at the Manuka Oval in Canberra in their first outing. Despite Bangladesh being the full test-playing member, Afghanistan will go into the game with more than a fair chance of having a successful outcome. Bangladesh are in all sorts of trouble, engaged in their quadrennial battle to save face against increasingly improving associate nations, and ripe for picking.
Central to their success will be their captain and all-rounder Mohammad Nabi. Nabi is not only vital to Afghanistan having a good tournament on the pitch, he is also the emotional leader of a side, that due to their backgrounds, are tighter knit than any other squad at the World Cup. Nabi, born in a refugee camp in Peshawar, is the sort of story that all casual spectators of the World Cup have been quick to learn and embrace.
But turning attention to cricketing matters, Nabi’s batting and off-spin bowling are where he can be most influential over the next few weeks. In his 45 ODI’s to date, Nabi has nabbed 42 wickets and also racked up over 1000 runs. He really came into his own during Afghanistan’s glorious qualification campaign over the past 4 years. Where he was both his country’s leading wicket taker and leading run scorer in the WCL Championship with 423 runs and 20 wickets.
Nabi’s experience and calm head will be required, especially as Afghanistan are expected to be behind the eight-ball in most of their matches. His bowling is often extremely economical and in a recent ODI against Ireland, his 8 overs cost only 20 runs.
Afghanistan’s record in major ICC events is not great. Their three outings in the World T20 have left them with a record of 6 losses and 1 just wins. But this squad is the best-prepared side they have ever sent to a global event, and the 50-over format should favour them.
Afghanistan’s challenges at this World Cup are twofold, as they are for the other three associate sides. Firstly, they must attempt to do their own talent credit, as every side must. They are playing for national pride and to fulfil their own dreams and ambitions. However, it is their second remit to represent the entirety of the non-test playing nations. Alongside the UAE, Scotland and Ireland, Afghanistan will be seeking to make a mockery of the ICC’s despicable decision to reduce future World Cup’s to just 10 sides. No other sport is trying so hard to stifle it’s own development.
If Afghanistan are to be in anyway successful in either of their aims during this tournament, then Mohammad Nabi will doubtless be central to their campaign. I sincerely hope that this Afghan side can provide the feel-good story that cricket so desperately needs. With only two days to go, we won’t have to wait long to find out!