The people of Dehradun, who have seen the Afghanistan team play against Bangladesh in this recently concluded T20 international series, would have felt the feel-good factor within the team.
The ‘Blue Tigers’, as they call them, never cease to amaze. There is something magical, something appealing about these boys and it always attracts the fans towards them. The combination of their spirited determination, energy on the field and intensity is deadly for the opponent, but it is a refreshing spectacle for any cricket lover. These Afghan players don’t play for individual milestones, they always play as a team. And even when they are outclassed by their rivals, the confidence level and the never die attitude take these Afghanistan cricketers forward.
Their 3-0 series win against an experienced Bangladesh team is a classic testament to that.
Despite all the turmoil in their set-up back home, in white-ball cricket, Bangladesh are still considered a dangerous side. They have plenty of match winners in their ranks and in their last assignment before this three-match T20I series, the ‘Green Brigade’ reached the final of the Nidahas Trophy in Colombo, beating Sri Lanka twice in as many games and suffered a narrow defeat against India in the finale.
However, in Dehradun, Shakib Al Hasan’s boys were completely outplayed by the spirited Afghanistan side with their tactical prowess and brilliant execution. And most importantly, it was a team effort.
First and foremost, with eight scalps in three games (with an economy rate of 6.12) Rashid Khan has been the standout player throughout. In fact, in all the three matches, his spells in the death overs made the difference between the two teams. The 19-year old leggie had a massive impact on the opponent’s psyche so much so that in the third and final game, the Bangladeshis couldn’t even score 9 off his last over to secure a consolation win.
However, Bangladesh did not just lose to Rashid. They were outplayed by an all-round Afghan side, where everyone contributed to this historic triumph.
Alongside Rashid, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi were a perfect foil. They mostly bowled with the new ball, inside the powerplay. On that slow pitch, with their nagging line and length, the duo did not allow the Bangladeshis to gain any sort of momentum in the first 10 overs. There was hardly any freebie on offer, which frustrated the Bangladesh batsmen and they were left with no option but to attack Afghanistan’s best bowler, Rashid who, throughout the series bowled his four overs in the latter half of the innings. And the Afghanistan think-tank exactly wanted that.
The post-series stats show, both Mujeeb and Nabi have an economy rate of 5, which is incredible in modern-day ‘hit out or get out’ type of cricket. Also, the effort of the pacer Shapoor Zadran in the first two games should not be ingnored. He bowled his heart out on a non-responsive track. In the last match, his replacement Aftab Alam too bowled a decent spell.
And this bowling effort was backed up with some vivacious fielding. A classic example is Thursday’s match (third and final T20I), in which their fielding literally won Afghanistan the game.
The batsmen, on the other hand, were right up to the mark.
The newly-laid sluggish wicket at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium did not support power-hitting. So, the Afghan batsmen had to curb their natural instinct and play more sensibly.
In the second game, chasing a modest total of 135, their openers – Usman Ghani and Mohammad Shahzad – played out two back-to-back maidens up-front against the left-arm spin of Nazmul Islam. They did not panic and provided their team a solid base for a late burst of Samiullah Shenwari and Nabi, who finished the job in style.
It is really heartening to see such maturity from the Afghan batting department, which, till a few years back used to be known as a reckless batting unit. The run-chase has been the highlight of this series.
Whether, it is Shenwari, Shahzad, Ghani, Asghar Stanikzai or Shafiqullah — all of the Afghan batsmen have left their mark in the series. Their short but timely bursts provided the batting the necessary push, when required.
Overall, this all-round effort helped Afghanistan in registering their first ever whitewash against a Test playing nation and Shahzad and Co celebrated in their own style.
In this era of extreme professionalism in sports, in which each and every move of an athlete or a team is well calculated, these spontaneous Afghans on the field are like a breath of fresh air. Such characters are an absolute necessity for the fans. Let’s hope, both on and off the field Stanikzai’s boys will continue to remain such flamboyant and keep us entertained.