Afghanistan is on top of the world and enjoying its stay in the rarified atmosphere for now.
Here is a country that has been ravaged by war for years and, if that wasn’t enough heartbreak, it was dealt another blow this past week — three earthquakes shook the country, killing some 3,000 and destroying 2,000 homes.
As people went around moving earth with their bare hands looking for their loved ones, their cricket team pulled off one of the greatest shocks in the history of the World Cup. Afghanistan hammered defending champion England by 69 runs under the lights in New Delhi and this upset ranks right up there with Ireland’s win against England in Bangalore in 2011, Zimbabwe surprising Australia in 1983 and Kenya’s thumping of the West Indies in 1996.
“This victory will give them a little bit of smile on their faces and they could little bit forget these tough days,” said Rashid Khan, the country’s most-famous all-rounder and one of the stars in this defeat of England.
“I think cricket is the only source which gives them lots of happiness and lots of good memories and people back home just wait,” Rashid added.
Now there is no stopping the minnows who, with new-found momentum on their side, have set their sights of making it to the semifinals.
Ignore Afghanistan at your peril. The squad is loaded with a world-class lineup of spin-and-seam and it has a number of batsmen who can run up the scores, as they did against the defending champion.
England was bowled out for 215 thanks to a superb knock of 66 by Harry Brooks. The damage was done by Rashid and his spin partners Mujeeb Ur Rehman with three wickets apiece and Mohammad Nabi, who got the important wicket of Dawid Malan, who made 140 against Bangladesh, for 32.
Afghanistan started off on fire with opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who hit a blistering 80 off 57 balls with eight fours and four sixes before being run out, and Ikram Alikhil smashing 58 to put up 285.
Apart from the three-pronged spin attack, Afghanistan unleashed Fazalhaq Farroqi and Naveen-ul-Haq who bowled with speed and accuracy to dismantle the English lineup.
One has to take your cap off to the Afghani players, who because of the Taliban rulers are unable to play at home and many of them no longer live in their own country.
It was England’s second loss in three games in India and the alarm bells are sounding loud. The loss hasn’t eliminated the English, but it leaves them with little room to manoeuvre in their final six group matches.
Next up is high-flying South Africa on Saturday and we don’t fancy their chances against the unbeaten Proteas. The rest of the schedule pits the English against Pakistan, Australia, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands.
Australia, meanwhile, won its first match by defeating Sri Lanka by five wickets. Sri Lanka made 209 and the Aussies replied with 215 for five with half centuries from Josh Inglis (58) and Mitchell Marsh (52).
There were 100,000 fans — nearly all clad in blue — in the 132,000-capacity Narendra Modi Stadium when India took on arch-rival Pakistan in the marquee game of this tournament.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t live up to expectations as the home team, roared on by the fans, strode to a seven-wicket victory.
Skipper Rohit Sharma was at his brilliant best with a classy 86 and he received an inspired bowling display as Pakistan was back in the pavilion for 191 after losing its last eight wickets for 36 runs — collapsing from 155 for two to 191.
After a strong start with captain Babar Azam (50) and Mohammad Rizwan (49) came that meltdown. Both played some attractive strokes that would have the crowd cheering them, but there weren’t more than 10 Pakistanis in the crowd of that size.
Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja took two wickets each to stump Pakistan. Sharma had six sixes and six fours in his 63-ball knock and Shreyas Iyer weighed in with 53 to thrill the fans as India stayed unbeaten in three matches and Pakistan dropped to 2-1.
No doubt that it was a great one-sided victory for India, but how come there were no Pakistani supporters in the stands? The Indian authorities along with the International Cricket Council should be ashamed of themselves for denying visas for fans from across the border.
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Pakistan’s cricket director Mickey Arthur said: “It didn’t seem like an ICC event, to be brutally honest. It seemed like a bilateral series; it seemed like a BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) event.”
He also accused the public address system organizers of favouring India by refusing to play Dil Dil Pakistan (My heart is Pakistan), the nation’s unofficial anthem.
ICC chairman Greg Barclay downplayed the criticism, saying it was par for the course at such tournaments: “Every event that we have, there’s always criticisms from various quarters.”
Barclay obviously doesn’t want to rock the boat. He had nothing to say either when the Pakistan national squad didn’t receive their visas until a day before arriving in India. Some Pakistani cricket journalists are still waiting for their accreditations.
This is nothing short of a disgrace for a World Cup event.
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