Was Afghanistan’s win over Pakistan unexpected? No, not really. They had already defeated champions England in the Cricket World Cup 2023. So why should Monday’s victory in Chennai be a surprise? That’s because the Afghans hadn’t beaten their neighbours in their last seven attempts in One-Day Internationals.
In several of the seven ODI encounters, they had come close to upstaging Pakistan only to be thwarted in the final moments. The most recent was in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, in the Asian Cup, when Pakistan’s Naseem Shah struck the winning runs in the last over in a tight finish. Shah had been a bugbear for them, having done something similar at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium a couple years back. But that was in the Twenty20 World Cup.
Afghanistan’s rise in world cricket
ODIs are different. It calls for patience, tactical acumen and strokeplay. Afghanistan have struggled to find the right blend, which explains some of their narrow losses. Although they have the skillsets, lack of consistency has undermined their efforts on the world stage.
As a cricketing nation, Afghanistan have made rapid strides. Many Afghans learnt the ropes in the refugee camps in Pakistan at the height of the civil war that rocked their country. They are now a full member of the International Cricket Council and have been regularly qualifying for the World Cups.
Several Afghans play in franchise leagues worldwide. Rashid Khan is the most sought-after T20 player in the world. He along with Rahmatullah Gurbaz, Naveen ur Rahman and Noor Ahmed play in the Indian Premier League, and Ibrahim Zadran turns out in the Pakistan Super League. The experience of handling pressure situations in front of massive crowds helps.
It showed in the game against Pakistan. When openers Abdullah Shafique and Imam ul Haq took control of the first powerplay, Afghanistan struck back with their spinners, making scoring difficult. Only cameos from Iftikhar Ahmed and Shadab Khan gave Pakistan a challenging total.
The Afghan chase was clinical. Gurbaz and Zadran strung together a century stand for the first wicket in good time and had the required run rate under control. The scoring didn’t flag after even their departure, as Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi kept them going.
At no time did they look like surrendering their advantage. No rash strokes, no hurried attempts to finish the game early. They took it deep, right into the 49th over. Former Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni would have been proud of the effort. It was so professional.
It is ample proof that Afghan cricket has come of age. Which means no team will take them lightly. There are no free points. In fact their opponents should be worried about dropping points. England and Pakistan will vouch for that.