Afg v Ban, Group A, Canberra February 18, 2015

This is how good the World Cup could be

Hamid's headband, Shapoor's distance sprint to the wicket, and Mirwais' shining scalp provided examples of the glories of an inclusive global tournament

Hamid Hassan's headband and war paint are just what a cricket carnival needs © Getty Images

When Asghar Stanikzai visualised his role in his country's World Cup debut, I doubt it would have involved trudging back to the pavilion with the scoreboard reading 3 for 3 after three overs. Nor would legspinner Samiullah Shenwari have seen himself being ejected from the attack for following through onto the pitch after just seven balls, unless he had been treating himself to a nightcap of some extremely unpasteurised cheese. Such is the cruel hand of sporting fate, which dashes far more dreams than it makes, and is one of the least reliable scripters of Hollywood feel-good movies.

"You have not seen Afghanistan play yet," coach Andy Moles said afterwards. He was lying. Perhaps not intentionally, and you could understand what he meant after a disappointingly conclusive defeat. But he was lying. We saw Afghanistan play for the 50 overs of Bangladesh's innings, and they were largely excellent, occasionally magnificent, especially in the first 30 overs, when their pace attack restrained and then shuddered Bangladesh.

Hamid Hassan, pacey, hostile, with the shoulders of a champion, and, most importantly, headbanded like a fast bowler should be, was denied his nation's first World Cup wicket by an umpiring blooper and an understandable reluctance to risk his team's only review in the third over of the innings. Shapoor Zadran, the gargantuan left-armer with the epic run-up, was dangerous and awkward. Then medium pacer Mirwais Ashraf, with his admirable pate, induced an edge from Tamim, caught by the outstanding wicketkeeper Afsar Zazai, leaping balletically to his left like a young Olga Korbut diving out of bed to whack her snooze alarm, then trapped Anamul leg before. Shapoor struck twice, and Bangladesh were 119 for 4 in the 30th over.

With Hamid's headband, Shapoor's distance sprint to the wicket, and Mirwais' shining scalp, Afghanistan almost have a composite Dennis Lillee of a pace attack, requiring only an angry moustache and accompanying short-form vocabulary.

Shapoor is one of this World Cup's most glorious sights. Not for him the scientific homogeneity of a biometrically precise fifteen-to-twenty-yard gathering to the crease. Shapoor bowls off a proper, old-school, certifiable fast-bowler's run-up, a 40-yard gallumph of unmistakable cricketing pugilism, hair flapping behind him in a resplendent tonsorial semaphore that screams "I mean business", culminating after more than 25 power-bustling strides of varying lengths with a leaping, ground-shaking, full-body hurl.

Who knows if this is the most productive way for Shapoor to bowl? Who cares? He is a swashbuckling throwback to a time before the controlled coaching of maximum efficiency, an anti-Woakes in an age of precision honing. He also, more importantly, bowled superbly, taking 2 for 20 off 7 overs, spearing in yorkers, hurrying batsmen with awkward bounce, fire and angles, giving his team parity before Shakib and Mushfiqur applied 280 ODIs' worth of experience to turn the game Bangladesh's way, before Mashrafe and Rubel scuppered the Afghan reply and broke Asghar's dream of a match-winning 17-ball century.

So it is that, of the 13 non-Test nations to have played in the World Cup, only Zimbabwe have won their debut match; Ireland tied on their maiden appearance (against Zimbabwe in 2007), and the other 11 have all lost, from Sri Lanka and East Africa in 1975, to Afghanistan, all by margins ranging from decisive to obliterative. (South Africa are the only team apart from Zimbabwe to have won their first World Cup match since the inaugural tournament in 1975.)

Shapoor running in from the boundary is proper, old-fashioned fast-bowler behaviour © Getty Images

Who knows when another cricketing nation will make its World Cup debut? Afghanistan were the first to do since Bermuda and Ireland in 2007, and the chances of a newcomer claiming one of the two qualifying places up for grabs in 2019 and 2023 are remote, unless Monaco starts attracting cricketers like it does tax-allergic Formula One drivers. Or unless the ICC changes its bafflingly insular 10-team format for forthcoming World Cups.

Within those three opening overs of Afghanistan's reply, the game was decided, but there was more than enough in the debutants' performance to suggest that, if the World Cup insists on constricting itself to 10 teams, this sport will be making one of the gravest and most avoidable errors in its history. It will be turning its back on its own future, snuffing out its own evolving narratives before they come close to fruition, coating one foot in a golden ski-boot whilst unloading a pistol into the other.

If that format is persisted with, cricket will have failed. Frankly, given their remarkable curve of progress and passion for the game, if Afghanistan have not played a Test match within 10 years, cricket will have failed. Canberra played host to another vibrant occasion that demonstrated how good a Cricket World Cup could be. If cricket ignores the evidence it is laying before itself, it will have proved itself to be an idiot.


Hamid should have further cemented his place in Afghan cricketing history as his nation's first World Cup wicket-taker, when Tamim edged a drive to the wicketkeeper which went undetected by the not-quite-all-seeing eye of umpire Steve Davis. Had there been two DRS reviews available in each innings, Afghanistan would almost certainly have reviewed it.

Why there is only one review per innings in ODI cricket, when there are two per 80 overs in Tests, is one of the many logical quirks that cricket's administrators seem to hold unfathomably dear.

Since ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball records began, bowlers have taken a wicket every 40 balls in ODIs, and every 70 balls in the first 80 overs of Test innings. This equates roughly to 7.5 bowler's wickets in the average 50-over ODI innings, and 6.9 in the first 80 overs of Tests.

Assuming there are a proportionate number of appeals and assorted near-wicket-incidents in both formats, then, logically, you would assume that there would be the same number of referrals available for an ODI side as in the first 80 overs of a Test innings; particularly as a team with only one referral at its disposal is less likely to use its one review than a Test team is to use its two, knowing they will be replenished after 80 overs.

The equipment is there, but is only being partially utilised. If the reason for only having one review is to accelerate the game, then perhaps we should consider some of the approximately 100 other means of speeding up play, ranging from asking umpires to move at something more than a geriatric dawdle, to not having 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th men scuttling on the field in brightly coloured bibs every time one of their team-mates needs a drink, smile, cuddle or update on an eBay auction.

And finally, a couple of stats:

  • Bangladesh became the second team in World Cup history to see its top four all reach 15, without any of them going on to post 30. The previous side to do so - Bangladesh, in 2007. It was the 8th time this has happened in all ODI cricket.
  • Afghanistan made cricket history in more ways than one. They became the first team to lose both openers for 1 when chasing in a World Cup match. And the first team to lose three of its top four for 1 in any ODI.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 21, 2015, 7:53 GMT

    It pleasure for our nation that we have a great team as point of our team is tillanted team but the only problem is in planning which related to capitan and coach.

  • Dummy4 on February 20, 2015, 14:54 GMT

    Dear ICC and the BIG3:

    An associate scores 162 all out in its first ever appearance in an ODI World Cup and a Nation which is the full member and founder of Cricket scores 123 all out. ICC it's upto you if Afghanistan deserves to be in Next World Cup or England?

  • Hameedullah on February 20, 2015, 12:36 GMT

    Agree (Y) (if the World Cup insists on constricting itself to 10 teams, this sport will be making one of the gravest and most avoidable errors in its history). I love Afghanistan team they are youngest but really brilliant. thumb up

  • Mohammad on February 20, 2015, 7:32 GMT

    We are proud of our Blue Tigers & it does not matter if ICC does not let us play in the next World Cup. Because, already it's not gonna be a World Cup. In fact, how would someone in it's right mind call a 10 Nation Match a world Cup?????? If we have this kind of approach from the so called ICC, this game will be soon wipe out from this earth.

  • Dummy4 on February 20, 2015, 5:43 GMT

    Afghanistan is still young in this field let's see what they will deliver in next matches

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2015, 23:09 GMT

    Afghanistan cricket is still growing and gaining the experiences. This is their first time appearence in the world cup ODI. I hope they win in the upcomming matches.

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2015, 17:44 GMT

    It is good to see so many non-test playing countries in the World Cup. If I ran the ICC I would give of them test playing status immediately; playing test matches is the only way to expand the game. New ideas can be explored with a larger test playing arena. test cricket can be saved --- the ICC just don't know how to generate income and spectators from t he game. I have ideas I would like to try.

  • Keith on February 19, 2015, 14:54 GMT

    The current 14-team model really is not working for the World Cup. The only time the Associates are interesting is when they play low-ranked Test nations or each other. So the ICC is really (for once) onto something by having a qualifying system to get the two best teams outside the Top Eight into subsequent World Cups. The thing is that the drama of the qualification MUST be accessible to the viewing public. ICC must sponsor it just as thoroughly onto video (Internet if not broadcast TV) as it does the main event. That way the drama will not be put in the closet, and the context of the two qualifiers will not be lost on the cricket viewing public. On-demand replays and rebroadcasts in between live matches at the World Cup, built into the broadcasting rights agreement, are a must. If all this is done, then there is a good chance that the 10-team model might just be the best thing for the sport.

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2015, 10:15 GMT

    ICC should increase the number of pools.................

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2015, 10:06 GMT

    Only 10 team playing world cup!!! ICC should rather say it full members cup how will cricket develop in other associates country by giving less chance to associates to play with full members until the wall between associates and full member is not broken cricket will not develop so ICC should re think about there decision about 2019 world cup

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