When India take on Afghanistan, they effectively play a bunch of die-hard fans. Did you, for instance, know that opener Karim Sadiq is affectionately called ‘Kabul ka Sehwag’? Bet you weren’t aware that skipper Mohammad Nabi earned the nickname ‘Yuvraj’ quite a few years ago.
The minnows of world cricket have barely threatened MS Dhoni & Co but, on Thursday, they took another huge step in what has been an inspirational journey in the world of cricket.
Nabi and his motivated bunch of players defeated India albeit the Under-23 side by 28 runs in a low-scoring encounter at the Asian Cricket Council Emerging Teams Cup in Singapore. Alas, the win was merely a consolation prize for the spirited minnows who had already crashed out of the eight-team event.
But try telling that to Nabi, his mates or Bashir Stanikzai, the high-performance manager of the Afghanistan Cricket Board. “We just beat the strongest team in the tournament,” a thrilled Nabi told dna. “Beating India is a big achievement, but unfortunately we could not beat Pakistan,” he rued.
Afghanistan, who were in Group ‘A’ with India Under-23, Pakistan Under-23 and Nepal, won their opener by a three-run margin. That victory against Nepal held them in good stead against Pakistan, but the ‘Men in Green’ sneaked home with just two wickets in hand.
“We gave a tough time to Pakistan. But this win against India is a big, big boost for us. We have a lot of cricket coming up and I am sure the boys will be very confident now,” Stanikzai said.
“A win against an ICC ‘full member’ is always great news for a team like ours. This shows we are capable of competing with the big boys. And at times, we are capable of beating them,” he added.
Till about five years ago, Afghanistan were playing in Division 5 of the World Cricket League. Today, they hold an Associate membership of the ICC with two ICC World Twenty20 appearances, an ICC Intercontinental Cup and an Asian Games silver medal to show. For a nation that’s been ravaged by war, these achievements are nothing but incredible.
The Indian XI comprised some proven performers, with Unmukt Chand being one of them. Not to mention the various players with a decent number of Ranji Trophy matches under their belt.
Suryakumar Yadav, the India Under-23 skipper, showered praise on the Afghans.
“They outplayed us in all departments,” he said. Team manager Vinod Deshpande echoed Yadav’s views. It was s uperb show by the Afghans. They are a really improved team. Far, far better than the one we saw at the ICC World Twenty20. For us, the loss is a warning bell ahead of Friday’s semifinal against the UAE,” Deshpande said.