The magic of Afghanistan
When Afghanistan have a good day on the field, there is something magical about it. They already inhabit a special place in cricket history, but their days aren't magic just because of history, it is the way they play and this almost preternatural feeling that on some days, nothing can stop them. Like the spirit of cricket is real, interventional and a member of their team.
Today was one of those days.
There is certainly something on Mohammad Shahzad's side when he bats. All of his shots, his adrenal gland chomping slaps, would be caught for another batsman, if that batsman dared to play his shots. But Shahzad's just find the gaps, clear by inches, or land safely. Almost every time he plays you can hear the ghosts of cricket's past moaning, "on another day, that'd be out".
But today wasn't another day, it was Afghanistan's day. You didn't need a madcap Shahzad masterclass to know that.
Even after Zimbabwe had fought back, with Afghanistan at 63 for 4, it just felt like it was to add drama. Maybe on another day Zimbabwe would have taken those four, added a few others, stripped down the total and kept their nerve. It didn't happen, because it wasn't that day.
Richmond Mutumbami has been the form wicketkeeper on a tough pitch at Nagpur. The ball has spun a lot, it has bounced several times, and he has handled it all well. So when Nabi ran past Wellington Masakadza, he should have completed the transaction. Instead, divine intervention in the form of a wicketkeeping error saved Afghanistan. On another day, it would have been a wicket to Zimababwe. On this day it was a run to Afghanistan.
Later, when the game tried to suggest that Samiullah Shenwari should be caught at deep midwicket by Malcolm Waller, someone up high said no again. This time it was the very real, very human figure of the third umpire Ian Gould, who decided after many replays that the ball had bounced. Maybe he was right, maybe it just looked that way to the cameras, but it always felt like something would save Afghanistan. This time it was Gould, the magical pixie from the land of Slough.
When Afghanistan's fate wasn't changed, they were just actively given things. Extras scored 25 runs, at better than a run-a-ball. Wides weren't conceded, that were gift wrapped lovingly and delivered more than one at a time.
Mutumbami did break the stumps in the 17th over, trying a run-out, but instead of a smart piece of keeping, it became another cherry on Afghanistan's cake as they took an overthrow. Later when he had to hit, he missed. Then when he finally did hit, it was too late. Zimbabwe weren't playing Afghanistan, they were playing against fate, with no luck, and increasingly poor form.
Afghanistan hit the ball in the air, a lot. They use air like other teams use the ground, as if it is the safe place to hit the ball. But on days like this, it just feels safer. When they try to hit to leg, the ball goes straight, in the air, and safe. When they try to hit to leg, again, the ball goes to the off, safe again. When the ball finally found a fielder, it seemed like it was just a chance to let someone else have fun.
Zimbabwe's innings wasn't a threat, Sean Williams played a beautiful straight drive, it should have been four, at least two, but the fielding was too good, and they could only get one. Next ball Mutumbami was on strike and he found deep midwicket with one that felt like it hit the middle of the bat but was still preordained for the middle of Najibullah Zadran's hands. Williams was dismissed when it almost seemed like someone had moved him out of his crease just so he could be stumped. Waller was bowled playing a ball that was created by a higher power.
This was clearly Zimbabwe's role in the match, the prat fallers, extras, and the faceless vanquished.
By the time danger hitter Elton Chigumbura was allowed to bat the game had finished, he had not entered a cricket match he could win but a party in Afghanistan's honour. Dawlat Zadran pointed excitedly. Hamid Hassan kissed the grass. Shahzad smiled. Asghar Stanikzai giggled. It was all magic.
Afghanistan won the match, their match. Some of it was good spin, quality pace, confident batting and just a bit was magic. Hamilton Masakadza said that they were a team suited to the conditions that can win one or two matches in the main tournament.
Afghanistan have had three of these magical days so far, if they get two or three more, it could be a magical tournament. Not just for them, but for cricket.
Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber