WT20 : Afghanistan beat West Indies
The Belief Was Always There: Inzamam
Afghanistan have consistently been impressive on the world stage ever since they came through in a fairytale journey from Division 5 to near the top echelons.
On Sunday (March 27) at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur, they took their most significant step yet, beating powerhouses West Indies by six runs. They had beaten Bangladesh in a One-Day International during the 2014 Asia Cup, and in their first appearance in a World Cup, registered a thrilling one-wicket win over Scotland. However, this was the first time they had beaten a top team – one of the tournament favourites – at a world event.
Inzamam on cricket, peace and character in Afghanistan: In the last two-three years there has been a lot of activity – not just cricket, but football and other sports too – which is very healthy, for any country. If there is peace and there are facilities, sport will flourish better. We couldn’t play as well as we wanted to, we are not in the semifinals, but we didn’t play like absolute newcomers.
Inzamam-ul-Haq, the former Pakistan skipper who was appointed the team’s coach in November 2015, was understandably beaming after the match, and said that with more opportunities, his wards would do even better.
“There is no doubt it’s a big win for us,” said Inzamam. “Whether it’s the ODI or T20 World Cup, we hadn’t won a match (against a top team) so this is definitely big. It’s also a sign that this team can do even better if they get opportunities.”
This victory came on the back of consistently running teams close in the ICC World Twenty 2016. “All our previous matches have been close. There haven’t been one-sided matches, it’s not like a team makes 200 against us and we are all out for 100 or 150,” pointed out Inzamam. “The team has been fighting, and the belief was always there. But right now Afghanistan haven’t had that exposure of winning against big teams. The finishing point has not been seen yet. But now that we have won this, it will definitely help. And we had a strong belief that if we can come so close, we can win too. Today it has happened. We could have won against England too, there was a close game against Sri Lanka too. So we knew we had the potential to win, but you still need that win. The more we play against big teams, the more we’ll learn, and can perform even better.”
Three factors worked in Afghanistan’s favour in their stirring win. They had a degree of familiarity with the Nagpur venue, having played all three of their first-round matches here. They had spinners in Amir Hamza, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Samiullah Shenwari who have developed into a cohesive unit capable of sticking to a line and bringing subtle variations into play to make the most of favourable conditions. And chasing hasn’t been easy at this particular venue during the World T20.
“If you see, chases have been difficult on this ground. Even in the last game, West Indies could chase 123 against South Africa only in the last over,” explained Inzamam. “India also played earlier and were all out for 79 (against New Zealand). So it’s not easy to get runs in the second innings on this ground. And we knew that, so it’s not like we had started out thinking we should get 160-170. Our target was 140 to 150, we thought we could put pressure if we had that total. So we thought we fell maybe 15-20 runs short, but I think the boys fielded excellently. They caught well and saved 10-15 runs on the field. That covered the runs we couldn’t make while batting.
“We thought we knew this ground better than West Indies, we had already played three matches here, practiced a lot here. We had an idea about the pitch and the ground, and that helped us mentally as well as on the ground. The bowlers knew how to bowl on the pitch, the batsmen had an idea and we spoke about this in our team meeting yesterday also – that we definitely know these conditions better than West Indies.”
Fielding has been Afghanistan’s weaker suit, but on the day, there were hardly any fumbles, players attacked the ball, and Najibullah Zadran – who made a crucial 48 not out to prop up the total – even injured himself when coming down hard after flying through the air to see off the big-hitting Carlos Brathwaite in the final over, a key moment. Credit was also due to Nabi, who shortened his length and didn’t allow Brathwaite the freedom to hit the big shot that would release pressure with 10 needed off the final over. Given that Nabi had gone for 15 off his first over, his final analysis of 2 for 26 in four overs was gold.
That came on the back of Hamza having an excellent day, as figures of 4-0-9-1 suggested. Three of those overs were bowled in the Power Play. What made it more impressive was Hamza had been taken for a 25-run over against England which turned out to be the difference in a 15-run defeat in their last match.
“He’s one of our main bowlers. Sometimes we need to make changes in the XI as per the conditions, and as per the player’s form. But he is a seasoned player and a terrific bowler,” said Inzamam. “In the last match, he did give up 25 runs in one over, but he didn’t let it affect his confidence. Today at a crucial point, he bowled well.”
Inzamam also gave credit to Manoj Prabhakar, the bowling coach who was brought on board a month after the Pakistan batsman, for his role in the team’s progress. “If we are defending 124, it means the bowling coach has had a role. Manoj bhai is a very experienced player and coach, so the boys have benefitted from him. He’s also given them advice, it’s really great.”
While explaining his team’s success, Inzamam reiterated how greater exposure would see them rise even higher. “All these boys are talented. The thing is, they haven’t got that many opportunities to play against big teams. But they have talent, passion, temperament – everything. As they get chances, you are getting to see different facets to them – that their batting is very deep. Though Rashid is basically a bowler, I think he can be a very good allrounder too. There are others too. What has happened in this whole tournament is that collectively our batting hasn’t clicked. It has been that we have done well in parts, someone has done well in one match, someone in another match. An overall effort of the whole team clicking hasn’t happened – if it had, I think we would have been in an even better position than we are in now.”
The only point on which Inzamam wasn’t sure was his own time with the team. “I am with them for a year now, so I’m looking at that first. After a year is up, we have to decide whether they want to keep me or not too,” he smiled. “It has to be both ways. I have five-six months left, and Allah willing, they will go well.”