We're used to thinking of the West Indies as our second favourite team. They are, usually. But not tonight.
C'mon, let's be honest. Put your hands up. We were ALL Afghanistan fans today, weren't we? Only the most passionate of West Indies supporter will still have disappointment as his over-riding emotion right now. Windies cannot begrudge them their moment. They must share in their joy and triumph — and from the experience, learn a lesson or two.
Smiling skipper Darren Sammy hadn't lost his ever-present grin as his side went down to defeat. But Windies observers will have also detected a steeliness in his eye as he looks ahead to the semi-final.
This result has no material effect on the competition; no actual change to the placings in Group 1 of the 2016 ICC World T20 tournament. And yet it may have a seismic impact upon international cricket.
Let us hope it does, because the cricket we've seen played by Afghanistan has been enterprising and competitive; and their players have been exuberant and infectious. We want more.
If this win doesn't shake up world cricket, it was at least a rude awakening for the dopey West Indies. They fell asleep at their posts, and rather like the arrogant hare in his infamous race with the tortoise, only awoke in time to see the outsider edging across the finishing line. Darren Sammy's team finished up as the Easter bunnies.
On Valentine's Day this year, the West Indies picked up the Under-19 World Cup crown. The assumption was that this Easter Sunday would see the next easy step in their progress towards a further title.
But Sammy's boys didn't turn up in their 'Sunday best' — this was more like one of those 'dress-down' days at the office. If they didn't actually turn up in tee-shirts and jeans, the intensity of their cricket certainly slacked off after an initial bustle and purposefulness in the field — all rather familiar to the start of their previous game versus South Africa.
It was as if they'd arrived at their place of worship, full of good intentions, but then dozed off during the sermon.
They began well, and an early good deed was done by Denesh Ramdin. He demured when Usman Ghani was given out caught-behind second ball of the match, flicking Andre Russell down the leg-side. Ramdin waved his glove to register doubt that the catch was cleanly taken. The wicket-keeper may have thought this was the most apt day of the year to be seen as a good egg; but he will also not have forgotten how failure to make a similar signal in similar circumstances against Pakistan in the 2011 Champions Trophy earned him a two-match ban. This was his opportunity for redemption, and he took it with both hands.
Chris Gayle and his dodgy hamstring was understandably rested. But the opportunity to give either Jason Holder or third spinner Ashley Nurse a game wasn't taken. Instead, Evan Lewis made his T20 International debut. Receiving his cap from the great Clive Lloyd turned out to be the highlight of his day.
The continuing omission of Nurse is puzzling, especially since Sulieman Benn and Samuel Badree have been far and away Sammy's most potent weapons. Without the option of Gayle (and with Marlon Samuels barred from turning over his bent arm), Sammy was forced to use himself for an exploratory over or two — his first of the competition. His initial over was tidy and picked up a wicket; but the second went for 13 runs. In the overall context of the match, this was damaging. Sadly for Sammy, when your bowling has already descended into a slow-medium trundle, your slower ball ceases to be a deceptive 'sleight-of-hand'.
West Indies remain a bowler short and must address this before their next game. Their hand may be forced if the injuries incurred today to the Andre's — Russell and Fletcher — rule them out. Expect them both to be replaced by bowlers — two from Holder, Nurse or Jerome Taylor; with Gayle returning for the hapless Lewis.
Batting-wise, the Windies got themselves in a pickle, and were tied up in knots by the bevy of Afghan twirlers. Johnson Charles enjoyed a short period of success with a few early lusty blows; while the most professional, intelligent batting was seen from Dwayne Bravo. He is wasted lower down the order, and adapts his innings with the brain and awareness of a proper batsman. It is easily forgotten that in the final of 2012 it was he who initially rebuilt Windies' innings in partnership with Marlon Samuels only to be given leg before by umpire Simon Taufel — despite a thick inside edge — one of the very few poor adjudications by Taufel in his career, in what was his last international match.
Today, with Bravo gone, Afghanistan were probably favourites for the first time in the game. Carlos Brathwaite threatened to break their, and our, hearts — but possibly the most fitting of endings saw him depart: c Najib b Nabi. It was a great, tumbling catch at deep mid-wicket from the Man of the Match, Najibullah Zadran, who's 48 not out earlier had helped his side make a total that would always be challenging — off one of Afghanistan's quartet of delightful spin bowlers.
We are going to miss them and let's hope Afghanistan and their teammates have made a big enough impression that a way is found to get them back on the world stage soon. We want them to get all the credit they deserve, and have earned.
While the world has been shocked by this upset, many followers in the Caribbean could see this coming. An Afghanistan team heavily reliant on good spin bowling were always going to present Windies with a significant challenge; and on the right sort of helpful pitch could perhaps be more puzzling and perplexing than the attacks of both England and South Africa.
So, thank goodness, qualification did not rely upon success in this game. The West Indies have an Achilles-like ability to take an arrow in the heel.
The Windies have a bit of form in this regard. In a 1969 friendly, they were humbled inside a day by Ireland — bowled out on an appropriately green top for a paltry 25. And it is only just over 20 years ago that they famously succumbed to Kenya in their opening match of the World Cup.
One hopes Afghanistan build on their triumph more successfully than Kenya were able to.
In 1996, West Indies recovered sufficiently to still make the semi-final. Back then, the bigger calamity awaited them in that game when one of their most horrendous batting collapses in history cost them victory against Australia. Twenty years on, they'd already booked that passage before suffering a big upset — and they'll be hoping that their horrors are now well and truly behind them. Hopefully, they will learn from the embarrassment.
But this match was not about West Indies losing; it was about Afghanistan winning. Let's hope cricket is the winner too.
First Published On : Mar 28, 2016 15:29 IST