Lara’s backing fuels Afghan cricketers’ fairy-tale rise

Afghan fans gather to celebrate the Blue Tigers’ victory over Bangladesh on Tuesday, which ensured they progress to the ICC T20 World Cup semi-finals. | AFP

Afghan fans gather to celebrate the Blue Tigers’ victory over Bangladesh on Tuesday, which ensured they progress to the ICC T20 World Cup semi-finals. | AFP

Published Jun 26, 2024


IT was only 14 years ago that Afghanistan made their first appearance at the ICC World Twenty20 – as the T20 World Cup was known back then – in the Caribbean. And it was just three years earlier, in 2008, that they were still playing in Division Five of the World Cricket League.

At that stage the team was primarily made up of refugees that had learnt the game in Pakistan.

The fact that they are now gearing up to face the Proteas in their first T20 World Cup semi-final in Trinidad and Tobago is virtually unbelievable.

It is a fairy tale of Hans Christian Andersen proportions, and even more so due to Afghanistan’s recent history.

Rashid Khan and his team are superheroes back in Kabul.

“I think the semi-final is going to be a massive, massive like inspiration for the youngsters back home in Afghanistan,” Rashid said.

“That Afghanistan team get into the semis for the first time. And we have done it (at) under-19 level, but this level we haven’t done that. Even Super 8 was first time for us and then in semis. It’s an unbelievable feeling.

“It’s a big achievement for us being in the semi-finals and I think the cricket we have played in the whole tournament so far, I think we deserve to be in the semis.

“The way everyone took the responsibility of getting into the game and performing best for the team. So, I don’t know how I can describe my feeling but it’s a massive achievement for us as a team and as a nation to be in the semis and now looking forward to the semis.”

Afghanistan may have benefited from the rain against Bangladesh in their last Super 8 clash to secure their semi-final qualification, but it has certainly been no fluke.

The Afghans beat former champions Australia for the first time and boast some of the leading performers in the competition.

Opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz is the leading run scorer in the tournament with 281 runs at an average of 40.14, while his partner Ibrahim Zadran is just two places below in third place with 229 runs at an average of 32.71.

Seamer Fazalhaq Farooqi also tops the bowling charts with 16 wickets at an average of 9.31 with Rashid (14) and Naveen-ul-Haq (13) in third and fifth place.

Former West Indies legend Brian Lara has been following Afghanistan’s progress closely the past few years and predicted ahead of the tournament that they would reach the play-offs.

Rashid claims this provided his team with extra motivation and they now firmly believe they can upset the Proteas today.

“I think we have proved one person very right was Brian Lara, the only person who mentioned Afghanistan to be in top four in semis,” he said.

“I think we told him that as well when we met him in the welcome party, we will make sure we prove that right as well.

“I think when you get the kind of great, great statements from a legend, as a team, I think it gives you lots of energy as well. We are capable, but as long we keep the things very simple and I think in the whole competition so far, we kept the thing simple.

“I think the belief is there as long as we just keep ourselves calm and make sure we do the right thing at the right time.”

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