Afghanistan’s rise in world cricket is nothing short of a fairytale and their Test status hasn’t come out of the blue. The players are quite raw compared to the big boys of cricket, but there’s no shortage of passion and affection for the game.
Since bagging the ICC Affiliate status in 2001, they haven’t looked back, instead, marching forward with sheer authority.
While many big players from various nations were benched in the Indian Premier League, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan proudly represented their side – Sunrisers Hyderabad.
When Afghanistan beat West Indies - the eventual champions - in the 2016 World T20, the whole nation vociferously cheered for them.
All in all, Afghanistan's journey in cricket is something that will be recounted time and again and here is a look at their meteoric rise.
The rise of Afghanistan
While their journey might look like a free-flowing one, there were several hurdles which could have bogged them down. From terrorist attacks and staying in refugee camps to a lack of cricket grounds in Afghanistan, the scenario has been no less than abject in the Asian nation.
Unlike other teams across the globe, they don’t have the luxury of playing on their home turf in front of a packed stadium, but with the passage of time, they have earned fans worldwide through sheer persistence and hard work.
While other associate nations like Scotland, Netherlands, Kenya, and others are still struggling to find their feet in world cricket, Afghanistan have taken the cricketing world by storm. Their first giant stride was qualifying for the World T20 in 2010 in the West Indies.
While they couldn’t manage a win against either India or South Africa, their energy in the field was commendable. Noor Ali Zadran’s half-century couldn’t fetch a triumph over India, but it showed that the newbies of world cricket weren’t going to be intimidated by the established nations.
Against South Africa, they showed great character with the ball, restricting the Proteas to 139 runs. They crumbled against the serious pace and venom of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, but they spanked some balls over the ropes to display flashes of brilliance.
When a World Cup dream turned into reality
Two years later, the players played their hearts out to qualify for the 2011 World Cup in India, but fell short. However, they gained ODI status for four years on the back of some brilliant displays.
2013 saw the Afghanistan team bag the ICC Associate status. Two years later, they traveled Down Under to play their first ever 50 over Cricket World Cup – a feat which had seemed like a far cry for Afghanistan even a couple of years before.
While cricket pundits and fans expected Afghanistan to come out all guns blazing, very few of them gave Mohammad Nabi’s men a chance of pulling off a victory. However, the Afghans stormed to their maiden World Cup victory by edging past Scotland by one wicket in a cliffhanger at Dunedin.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe, an established team have beaten the best in the business over the years. Nevertheless, Afghanistan became the first Associate nation to humble them twice, once in 2015 and then in January 2017.
Helping hands from every corner
During this voyage, there were several people who contributed to Afghanistan’s massive growth. Kabir Khan, their first coach, had to build the core of the team.
In November 2015, Inzamam-ul-Haq took over the mantle and signed a two-year contract with the Afghanistan team. However, he left his job to coach the Pakistan cricket team after which Lalchand Rajput was appointed the coach of the national team.
While the world lauded the Afghans’ stupendous run, the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) gifted them a home ground in India at Greater Noida where Afghanistan locked horns with Ireland for a T20, an ODI and an Intercontinental Series.
Afghanistan are still pretty new to international cricket, but they are no pushovers by any stretch of the imagination. With an aggressive and unflinching approach, a bright future is in the offing for the team.