Kolkata, From being a part of the ICC World Cricket League Division Five in 2008 to achieving Full Member status in 2017, Afghanistan’s rise from being an unknown entity in the cricketing world to the upper echelons of the sport in a decade has been fascinating.
A country which did not have a national team till as recently as 2001, where war has left people with little joy, cricket has emerged as a major binding force, a source of happiness.
The Afghans who grew up in colonies in Pakistan during the war years, took to tape-ball cricket, which was immensely popular in the country.
Gradually, it led to something fantastic, the game spreading in their own nation, the forming of the Afghanistan Cricket Federation (Afghanistan Cricket Board now) in 1995,and the steady rise up the ranks to, in 2018, their first Test match, an ICC report on Wednesday said.
Afghanistan have been a force to reckon with over the past few years. Their consistent rise in world cricket has made people stand up and take notice, their Out of the Ashes story one of the most wonderful in cricket history.
Now, it’s time to take the next step. After having impressed in ODIs, especially, and T20Is, it’s time to make a splash in Test cricket, starting with the game against No1-ranked India at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Thursday.
Afghanistan played their first ODI against Pakistan in Sharjah on February 10, 2012.Although they lost the match by seven wickets, it was a red-letter day in the history of Afghanistan cricket. They also hosted Australia in a one-off ODI in Sharjah the same year. In 2013, Afghanistan was promoted from Affiliate to Associate member by the ICC.
Afghanistan won their first ICC Cricket World Cup ticket in 2013. Eight teams took part in the ICC WCL Championship: Apart from Afghanistan, Ireland, the Netherlands, Kenya, Scotland, Namibia, Canada and the United Arab Emirates were involved. Afghanistan finished second in the competition after beating Kenya twice in succession and joined Ireland in the marquee event in 2015.
Playing their first-ever ICC Cricket World Cup, Afghanistan faltered against the five Test-playing nations in Pool A – New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and England – but beat Scotland in a close match by one wicket.
The Afghanistan pacemen, Shapoor and Dawlat Zadran, picked up seven wickets between them to bowl Scotland out for 210. In the chase, Javed Ahmadi, the opener, made 51 and Samiullah Shenwari, the No.4 batsman, scored 96, but with the ninth wicket falling at 192, it came down to the last two batsmen – Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran – who held their nerves to take their team home with three balls to spare.
Now a team everyone had become aware of, Afghanistan went through the ICC World T20 Qualifier 2015 to qualify for the big event, played in India.
Eight teams faced off in the group stage, to join the top-eight nations in the Super 10s, and Afghanistan won all their games – against Zimbabwe, Scotland and Hong Kong – to be promoted.
In the Super 10s, though, losses to Sri Lanka, South Africa and England knocked Afghanistan out of contention, but they lifted their game in the last fixture against the Windies, the eventual champions, winning by six runs in a low-scoring match.
The tournament also saw the emergence of Rashid Khan as a leg-spinner to worry about. In seven games, across the two phases, he picked up 11 wickets at an economy rate of 6.53, only behind teammate Mohammad Nabi (12 wickets) in the charts.
“Winning the ICC Intercontinental Cup for the second time is wonderful and being unbeaten is fantastic” Rashid said.
In the seventh edition of the international first-class tournament, Afghanistan powered to a second title, but this time the win became more special as they earned full-member status as a result, along with Ireland.
After drawing the first match with Scotland, Afghanistan went on to win their remaining six matches against Papua New Guinea, Namibia, the Netherlands, Ireland, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates.
Afghanistan finished on top of the table with 121 points, while Ireland finished second with 109 points.Afghanistan entered this year’s qualifier event in Zimbabwe as one of the favourites.
However, they struggled at the start of the tournament, losing their first three matches, which meant their chance to enter the next phase — the Super Sixes — was hanging by a thread.
But a win in their last group encounter against Nepal, and a few other results going their way, helped them get through, and then they registered three wins in a row to get to the final, along with the Windies. Being in the top two was enough to ensure qualification for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, and that achieved,Afghanistan went one better, beating the Windies by seven wickets in the final.