Afghans hound India all the way

Mohammed Shahzad is an inspiration to Afghan cricket and to all those who yearn for the days when cricketers were allowed to enjoy their lunch

For the Indians this was another day in the office. As such they turned up on time, did a bit of paperwork, chilled out by the water cooler, looked a bit bored at times but ultimately did their day’s work. An opening victory in Colombo in their bid to win the T20 Cricket World Cup by 23 runs. Nothing spectacular but job done. Bring on England.

And that is probably why most of the headlines will be about their opponents – Afghanistan.

Sure they lost and they will probably lose to England on Friday but they played with such spirit and no little skill that they really did suggest that they could emerge as a serious new player in international cricket.

Putting India into bat, they largely bowled with control and some guile, Shapoor Zadran being the stand-out. Their fielding, though, let them down – four dropped catches, three of them pretty straightforward meant that they had to chase 160 to win.

They were never going to do it but they didn’t half give it a go. Mohammed Shahzad is not just a man who likes a decent meal – his fulsome figure a throwback to some of the Sri Lankan greats like Duleep Mendis and Arjuna Ranatunga, not to mention the former England captain Mike Gatting. He also enjoys crashing the ball to all parts and he launched the Afghan reply in fine style in spite of having a Kabul -sized bruise on his knee.

When MS, as he likes to be known, pulled off a remarkable helicopter shot, its originator, the other MS, Dhoni, standing behind the stumps, did not look overly chuffed. In this case imitation was not the sincerest form of flattery.

Nawraz Mangal, Karim Sadaq and especially Mohammad Nabi all looked comfortable in this company. But India have experience, guile and Yuvraj Singh – and ultimately the Afghan fell short.

 Even so it was a thrilling effort from them, made all the more impressive when you consider what their country has been through over the past decade and some.

Afghanistan only set up a cricket federation in 1995 – 17 years ago – so they have a come a hell of a way in a short time, building the game in the face initially of the Taliban and latterly the American-led NATO invasion and the war that is still going on.

In one way, the turmoil may even have helped the game: thousands of refugees left Afghanistan during the dark years and poured across the border into Pakistan, a country with a great passion and rich heritage for the game.

Nabi was born in a refugee camp at Peshawar – that was before the Taliban during the Soviet occupation – so cricket was in his blood from the manger. And it seems that many other Afghans are in the same boat.   

Other federations like France and Greece must look enviously at the speed with which the game has taken off.

Afghanistan lacks a proper cricket infrastructure but the passion for the game is growing

Security problems remain in Afghanistan which means the national team hasn’t been able to host any major touring teams, although it would be great to see the Test-playing nations include a stop there in Jalalabad, for example, as a part of their Pakistan tour – as and when tours to Pakistan begin again.

Already the MCC looks to be leading the way – club president Phillip Hodson said in March: “I think we could do something in Afghanistan and I don’t think it will be long away

Apparently there are 500,000 players now in Afghanistan. It is surely only a matter of time before they scalp a top nation or two in the one-day tournaments and then – hopefully with Ireland by their side – join the ranks of Test cricket nations.

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