The seismic impact Afghanistan's influence on the World Cup.

The Chennai-Pakistan cricket bond is well-documented. The Chepauk crowd, known for appreciating quality cricket, embraced Babar Azam’s team. However, a new favorite emerged that day – Afghanistan.

Long after the match, the stands brimmed with enthusiastic Afghan supporters. Their victory against higher-ranked Pakistan sent seismic shockwaves through the cricketing world. The Afghan players celebrated with a victory lap, acknowledging the 30,000 fans, including native Afghans from around the world.

Noor Ahmad, the teenage spinner, one of Monday’s heroes, said, ‘You should know what is happening back home in Afghanistan… They are bursting crackers.

The Afghan triumph, their first in eight ODI encounters with Pakistan, can only be described as miraculous. The ninth-ranked team stunning the world No. 2, just over a week after they defeated the reigning world champions, England. Lightning has struck twice in this World Cup, thanks to Afghanistan.

“Unbelievable! This surpasses a World Cup for Afghans. It’s unquestionably our most significant historical victory,” exclaimed Norman Mirza, a cricket analyst from Afghanistan. “Congratulations on this monumental win. Long live Afghanistan,” echoed Ashraf Ghani, the exiled president. Raees Ahmadzai, the team’s assistant coach, was inundated with 500 messages on his phone, stating, “It’s a victory for the entire nation. The people back home are elated; I can sense it. The whole nation is celebrating as one.”

Ahmadzai emphasized that the joy is magnified because it came against Pakistan, their arch-rivals. The Afghanistan-Pakistan rivalry, though relatively new, is deeply ingrained in historical and cultural connections that extend beyond cricket. Afghanistan’s head coach, Jonathan Trott, acknowledged the significance of the occasion, saying, “It’s evident how passionate and intense their rivalry is.”

The jubilant Afghan supporters celebrated with fervor in the dressing room, with even Rashid Khan breaking into a dance. Trott, as an outsider, offered a more objective perspective, emphasizing the inspirational impact on future Afghan cricketers. “It will inspire another generation of players to pick up a cricket bat and a cricket ball, work on their fielding, and their fitness.”

Despite the David vs. Goliath analogy, Afghanistan displayed no signs of being underdogs. Their strategic selection of four spinners, a rare sight in a World Cup match, and their disciplined approach to the chase, free from flashy extravagance, showcased the cricketing acumen and professionalism of the team led by Hashmatullah Shahidi.

In pursuit of a challenging 283-run target against Pakistan’s formidable bowling, the Afghan team capitalized on the initial powerplay field restrictions, with all four key batters – Rahmanullah Gurbaz (65), Ibrahim Zadran (87), Rahmat Shah (77 not out), and Shahidi (48 not out) – opting for a risk-averse approach, avoiding unconventional strokes in their quest for victory.

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Their discipline was evident as they flawlessly executed their meticulously crafted plans. They effectively neutralized Pakistan’s spinners – Shadab Khan, Usama Mir, and Iftikhar Ahmed – preventing them from dictating the match narrative. Their astute running between the wickets, reminiscent of Virat Kohli, consistently turned singles into valuable twos. The entire chase maintained a controlled scoring rate, avoiding panic. The fact that Pakistan’s formidable pace attack, featuring Shaheen Afridi, Harris Rauf, and Hasan Ali, could only dismiss two Afghan batters reflects their focused and methodical batting approach on a spin-friendly pitch.

Jonathan Trott commended the batters, emphasizing their exceptional fitness. “We can see the guys are in great shape today. After fielding for 50 overs, Ibrahim batted for nearly 40 overs. It’s a tremendous credit to him,” the former England batsman noted. Ibrahim, who provided a brilliant start along with Gurbaz, was declared the Man of the Match in the eight-wicket victory.

While the Afghan victory was a collective effort, three players from Khost – Zadran, Gurbaz, and Noor – stood out. Khost, a rugged province, is becoming a cricket hub in a nation often affected by militancy.

Zadran and Gurbaz, the opening pair and the backbone of Afghanistan’s batting, displayed courage, conviction, and determination in their pursuit of 283. They showcased impressive shot selection, earning 17 runs, including four boundaries, from the first over delivered by Haris Rauf, Pakistan’s fastest bowler. Rahmat Shah and skipper Shahidi built on their foundation.

Noor, making his World Cup debut, utilized his IPL experience to keep batters guessing with his length. He took three crucial wickets, including those of Babar Azam and Mohammed Rizwan.

Trott emphasized the value of players like Noor gaining experience in foreign leagues like the IPL. “He started well, got some wickets and momentum. The IPL exposes young players to big crowds and pressure situations. He played in the IPL final, which is an amazing experience for a youngster,” said the Afghanistan coach.

Noor had featured in the IPL final for the Gujarat Titans against the Chennai Super Kings, providing him with valuable experience in handling pressure from large crowds, which served him well in the packed Chepauk stadium.


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