There is something about Afghanistan cricket that allures the cricketing world. It is a testament to the passion and brand of cricket that the men from that war-torn country play. When Afghanistan do well, everyone is happy. The West Indians even erupted in the 'Champion' dance after getting beaten by them in the 2016 World T20.
Amidst stories of growing up in refugee camps in constant fear of missiles and bombs dominating their daily lives and not having equipment, clothing or monetary assistance, Afghanistan's rapid rise has been interlaced with some iconic moments in the international arena.
One of them which will be etched in the memories for a lifetime arrived on 27 February, 2015. The image of Shapoor Zadran, on that sunny afternoon in Dunedin, going down on his knees with arms outstretched in relief, and the feeling of having achieved everything in life after hitting the winning runs against Scotland, will go down in folklore as one of the most endearing images in cricketing history.
Not just Afghanistan, the entire world smiled that day as Afghanistan created history by winning their first World Cup match.
Hamid Hassan, who had the best seat in the house at the non-striker's end when Shapoor flicked that full toss from Iain Wardlaw behind square leg to spark wild celebrations, still gets goosebumps recalling the events of that wonderful day in Dunedin.
"The moment he (Shapoor) flicked it, I knew it was a boundary," Hamid recalls to Firstpost. "Shapoor was running to the pavilion end (in wild celebrations) and I was chasing him. All the players were running from the pavilion end. It was one of the most...even when I am remembering now, I am feeling emotional. The happiness, the joy, it was one of the best moments of my life."
From 97/7 to chasing down 211, Afghanistan scripted a dramatic turnaround. After inviting Scotland to bat first, Afghanistan restricted them to 210 thanks to the two Zadrans, Shapoor and Dawlat who picked up four and three wickets each respectively.
In reply, Afghanistan started off well with openers Javed Ahmadi and Nawroz Mangal adding 42 for the opening wicket. However, they lost Mangal and Asghar Afghan (Asghar Stanikzai at that time) in the eighth over of the innings bowled by Evans. In walked Samiullah Shinwari who would go on to play one of the most significant innings of his life.
Shinwari saw Ahmadi depart after a well-made fifty and then the entire middle order in the space of five overs as Afghanistan crumbled from 85/2 to 97/7.
Shinwari too would have been sucked into the chaos had Majid Haq not dropped him in the slips when he was on 20 in the 21st over. It was a rare blip. He survived to live another day, to patiently rebuild brick by brick of the crumbled edifice.
He, along with Dawlat Zadran, brought calm amidst the storm to add 35 crucial runs. But then Dawlat suffered a brain fade. He went for a glory shot off the last ball before the Batting Powerplay and even as the ball was in the air, Shinwari banged his bat on the ground in frustration before letting out his anger at Dawlat as he trudged back.
In walked Hamid Hassan amidst soaring pressure. As he walked down the crease to have a word with Shinwari the message was pretty crisp, clear and inspiring.
"I told him, 'Sami, don't be afraid, I will block and you just play your natural game. Whatever you like, just go for it," Hamid recalls.
"I saw Sami's face was a little bit dark yellowish and very tensed, I told him Sami listen, If you want to become a hero, just stay in the crease till the last ball and wait for the result. He just looked at me and said, Will you get out? I said No! I am not going to get out. Just believe in me."
Shinwari soon brought up his fifty and the duo kept pushing Afghanistan closer. Right through the phase, the only thing running through Shinwari's subconscious mind was whether Hamid too would throw it away.
With 38 needed off 24, Shinwari went berserk, hitting three sixes off Majid Haq as he unleashed his favourite 'swipe across the line' shot which was his trademark throughout the innings.
"Every time he hit a six or a boundary, he came to me and (pleaded), 'Hamid please don't get out, please don't get out'," Hamid recalls.
All through this, Hamid displayed stunning defiance at the other end which was nevertheless still interspersed with anxiety.
Hamid's gameplan was simple. Block the ball, don't try to do anything extraordinary or foolish, just let Shinwari do the job. But there was one moment in the 44th over where even Hamid too couldn't resist.
Wardlaw dropped it short and Hamid pulled it over square leg for four. And expectedly, it set Shinwari's nerves jangling.
"I really applied myself, I was just blocking the ball, didn't try to hit it," Hamid explains. "Even the one shot I hit was because I was mentally prepared and ready for a bouncer. The bowler bowled it and I hooked him for a boundary. That was the only one shot I attempted and thankfully it was successful. But then Sami came to me and said, 'what the hell are you doing? Why did you hit that shot?' I said I was waiting for that ball. He said 'please don't hit.'”
The three sixes off Haq raised the hopes of millions but in few moments those hopes came crashing down as Shinwari suffered an adrenaline rush and went for another heave, this time straight into the hands of the fielder at deep mid-wicket. He was distraught and on his haunches as disbelief enveloped the University Oval.
"I went to him and said, what have you done man! We were almost there, just 19 runs away and you give your wicket away for nothing?" Hamid recalls the chat. "The emotions he was going through at that time, he was really sad. We felt like this is the end for us. When I saw his face there were tears in his eyes. That moment, I still remember, was a very emotional one."
In walked the bowling hero Shapoor Zadran. And again, the message from Hamid was simple and motivational.
"Man! Nothing is impossible, you just have to believe in yourself and inshallah, victory will be ours. We can do it, just don't give up. Just trust in yourself and trust Allah and just wait for the last delivery."
Hamid's calculation was simple. Play the full 50 overs and Afghanistan will be past the finish line.
With 19 needed off 18 balls, Hamid and Shapoor took a sensible approach and brought Afghanistan closer. With 9 required off 7 balls, Shapoor hit a critical blow, pulling a short one to fine leg boundary for a four.
With 5 needed off the last over, Hamid got a single of the first ball via a thick edge to third-man.
Hamid went up to Shapoor to deliver another message again.
"Listen, no matter what happens, just don't hit! Block 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th, we will take a chance off the last ball. We decided we will take a chance off the last ball, swing the bat and see the result. The heartbeats were getting faster, the dugout must have been in more tension, even everyone in Afghanistan."
Off the next ball, the duo nearly had a million hearts skip a beat with a mix-up that saw them survive a run out as the fielder missed the direct hit.
But then came the defining moment. With 4 needed off 4 and two fielders outside the circle, Wardlaw went for an inswinging yorker but missed it and bowled a low full toss on the leg stump, Shapoor flicked it behind square and rest, as they say, is history.
"It was a big occasion for Afghanistan. We had never ever played on the big stage like the World Cup. Luckily, I was part of that victory as well. And I was at the crease too, 15 off 39 balls and that too not out," Hamid beams.
Afghanistan had impressed the world in their first ever World Cup. They gave Sri Lanka a scare, battled hard against Bangladesh and then notched up their first ever World Cup win against Scotland.
"To be honest, it was one of the most historic victories ever for Afghanistan cricket. Because we had been waiting for the World Cup since 2011 which we missed narrowly because of just the one loss against Canada," Hamid explains. "We qualified for the T20 tournaments but 50 over is something different. When we played the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, we thought we will win one or two matches or maybe three. We nearly did that. The game against Scotland though was one of the most memorable games for the entire nation and the players."
The impact of the win was massive.
"The only hope to bring some smile and joy for Afghanistan people is cricket. And every time we play, we do it for the people of Afghanistan because the nation is suffering a lot. Whenever we play the message to the guys is, 'Please, if you are not doing for yourself, do it for the country and people of Afghanistan. Because we are the one who can bring peace.
"After that victory, I remember there was a guy who died of a heart attack. You can see the passion and love for the game, he couldn't handle the joy of win, he was a school principal and too young, like 28 years old. He couldn't control the emotions and got a heart attack. We felt sorry for him. When we came back home from the World Cup, all the players went straight to his home for duaa.
"People were not even expecting us to win a game but they were very happy that Afghanistan was participating in the WC. 10 years ago we were nowhere, ranked like 160 plus and now we are playing in top 12 countries in the world. It was an amazing moment in the journey and the victory bought extra happiness to the country."
On a personal note too, it was a memorable World Cup for Hamid. He finished as the second highest wicket-taker for Afghanistan (8 wickets at 32.62 with an economy rate of 5.11).
He still remembers that special delivery that cleaned up an in-form Kumar Sangakkara vividly.
"I heard Sangakkara got bowled after four years at that time. The ball I delivered to him was angling in, an inswinger, he couldn't read it, and it was like 144-145 kmph, a bit quicker if I can say."
What followed was a bizarre half-cartwheel celebration.
"That half-cartwheel was something crazy because I went for a full cartwheel but suddenly (Mohammad) Nabi wanted to give me a hug to celebrate so I stopped myself and hit my back very hard on the ground.
And then everybody came to me but I said to myself, forget the pain, you got Sangakkara, this is the most important wicket."
His bandana, war paint on cheeks and creative celebrations were the toast of the World Cup and made him a symbol of passion.
There was that half-cartwheel then the Flintoffesque celebration and also a commando roll (which also somewhat went wrong) after taking a catch.
"Flintoff is one of my all-time favourite cricketers. I became a big fan of his after the 2005 Ashes where he bowled and batted and was the only one player with 90mph speed, reversing the ball and troubling the Australian batsmen. And when he came to bat, he hit some massive sixes. So I was a huge fan of his and the celebration. Fast bowlers are very aggressive and do crazy celebrations. I am one of them.
"I don't know what I am doing but after taking a wicket I just enjoy my celebration whether it's of No 1 or 11. I mention this many times in my interview, I just love taking wickets, like when I am appealing sitting on one knee with open hands almost a Flintoff action. Flying or cartwheel. So it all comes naturally.
"I remember Kabir Khan when he was our coach, he asked me, 'From where are you learning these kinds of celebrations? Are you practicing it during the off time? I told him no sir, it comes naturally. It's the passion for my cricket."
That passion for cricket has made him fight several injuries and book a flight to the United Kingdom for what will be his last World Cup.
And we might not be far away from witnessing a different type of cartwheel or commando roll every time Hamid Hassan bags a catch or a wicket.
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