Aren’t We Glad for Afghanistan?

Twice, they said they would vanquish their neighbors. Twice, the opportunity knocked on their doors. And twice, Pakistan proved no match for India as the second India-Pakistan encounter in the 2018 edition of the Asia Cup showed. In light of such factors, it is a rarity that cricket fans are actually grateful for the so-called minnows, particularly Afghanistan who have raised the banner of the Asia Cup and eager associate members.

Pakistan were pushed to the very last over by Afghanistan in the first of the Super Four matches. The image of Shoaib Malik consoling the disconsolate Afghanistan bowler went viral. But it did little for Pakistan other than garner a few brownie points. Come the match and repeat encounter against India, Pakistan’s batsmen, for all their hype, were badly undone once more, without a semblance of a fight barring Malik alone.

For the International Cricket Council (ICC) to take into wisdom the merit of thoughts of wealthy cricket boards and decide in the interest of television rights, to cull these associate members from prestigious multi team events, particularly premier events such as the World Cup, the Asia Cup has been beneficial if only to prove one point: there are teams like Afghanistan who are willing to put in the miles to be reckoned equal with the already established teams.

It is arguably going to take a lot of proactive effort on the part of the ICC and social responsibility on the part of the permanent members if they are to ensure there are more opportunities for teams such as Afghanistan to play with the big league teams more often so that the next time, they push another teams of equal or higher caliber, they are, also, able to cross the line.

It was interesting, the contrast of how the two Super Four matches involving Afghanistan went. On the one hand, a tired Afghanistan who played Bangladesh just the day before in the final league match were asked to match up to Pakistan. To their credit, while it appeared Afghanistan had bit more than they could chew, they really pushed Pakistan to almost do the unthinkable twice in this tournament, beat a team rated higher than them.

Having been responsible for shoving aside Sri Lanka, one of the trio of Asia’s pre-established, and then beating Bangladesh comfortably, Afghanistan were asking to be thrust into the limelight, to be thrown amongst the lions, to want to learn and compete bravely if not fiercely. There was a point in the match in the Super Four against Pakistan when Afghanistan looked a little drained and palpably so. But that they managed to push Pakistan as far as they did speaks highly of their intent to compete, to make a statement and to see how far they could push their potential despite the odds being stacked against them.

Afghanistan have now had two rather close matches in the Super Fours. They nearly defeated Pakistan. They nearly pulled off a win against Bangladesh. They have shown they can be dangerous and given an inch, they will take it with pride. Having competed this well and this far, it seems unfair that Afghanistan would not walk away with more than a consolation prize.

But while India have been largely a force unto themselves if one looks past the fact that Hong Kong kept them on the field longer than they would have liked in their first match in this edition of the Asia Cup, Sri Lanka have been a non-starter and Pakistan have flattered only to disappoint once too often, denying fans of a feisty encounter on both occasions when playing against India. In that light, it seems that this is one tournament that will be grateful that an associate member recently granted Test status, namely Afghanistan, decided to raise the profile of the often overlooked tournament.

Tags: Shoaib Malik

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