Afghanistan v Zimbabwe, World T20 qualifier, Group B, Nagpur March 12, 2016

The magic of Afghanistan

On some days, nothing can stop them. Batsmen get away with risky shots, bowlers run through the opposition. Sometimes it seems like a higher force works in their favour
14

Everything went Afghanistan's way in Nagpur © International Cricket Council

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.

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

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Murtuza Hasan on March 13, 2016, 5:28 GMT

    Yeah it's wonderful that Afghanistan entered in the main draw.Now from here they have to play common sense cricket esp Shehzad as they need a solid foundation at the top and in bowling they need to bring back Shapoor zadran.

  •   رنګ on March 13, 2016, 1:53 GMT

    Yeah we won the match and it was something Afghan Nation needed. Besides the win, I really Like the way you write and the way you use words. Your Every writing is just not a report but also a fantastic narration.

  • Cricinfouser on March 13, 2016, 0:31 GMT

    Good for win for the Afghan lads but I don't think, the tournament should be held in places like India. Few of my mates who travelled there for the England games faced lot of issues with getting the tickets, transport and overall hygiene standard. Why can't it be held in England or even New Zealand?

  • sri1ram on March 12, 2016, 20:59 GMT

    Very happy for Afghanistan as an Indian. Good to see Afghani hearts bleeding light-blue too. Nice care-free cricket, decent bowling and enjoying the game. Welcome to the big leagues, you guys deserve this more than our common annoyance of a neighbour.

  • SamRoy on March 12, 2016, 19:49 GMT

    The best thing about the current Afghanistan team is to watch them bat when their captain Mohammad Shehzad has got out. I will pay good money to sit near Shehzad and watch his antics after every ball is bowled (and even more if I can get a Afghan translator). He is a hell lot more interesting than the cricket.

  • sniper on March 12, 2016, 19:10 GMT

    Very very pleased for Afghanistan. Best wishes to them going into the tournament. They can easily surprise 1 or 2 teams in the main event. I follow associate's matches more closely than Indian team's. Infact, except for the odd notification now and then, I dont even know whats happening with India's practice matches. Absolutely gutted for Ireland, Scotland, The Netherlands and Zimbabwe. The most important thing that is found wanting among all associates is that they fail 2 capitalize on small windows of opportunities the game provides. It can be holding on to a catch, applying pressure for an extended period, hitting sixes of very poor deliveries and all. I hope whatever little cricket they played in India this past week ( though The Netherlands team lost 10% of their cricket this year and I lost 50% of my opportunities to watch Myburg, Meekeren and van Gugten the other day) helps them become better players. Looking forward 2 see them soon on live TV. Now cheering Oman. Go Oman Go

  • ahmadzaisaad on March 12, 2016, 19:07 GMT

    Nice excuse for Zimbabwe. Hopefully Afghanistan will perform well in comming matches through anything miracles, magic. ... anything you call it. I am sure they are smart and talented as well.

  • Rashed.bd on March 12, 2016, 18:47 GMT

    Really loved the article. It's so well written and well expressed. Love for Afghanistan cricket team and good wishes for the main round

  •   Najibullah Noorzai on March 12, 2016, 17:49 GMT

    Nice piece Jarrod! Like the Indian advertisement for WC T20 2016, "It is tough20, there is room for experiment, but not for mistakes, players must try every tricks. This is ICC T20 2016, you can't wait for miracle and magic, you have to make miracle and magic" Afghanistan made miracles today and played in style in all forms -batting, bowling and fielding. By the way, Shahzad also proved you wrong, he is not a true master of agricultural afghan drunken samurai method, but a true master of afghan victorious attan slapping and smashing the ball in air out of the boundary.

  • eddsnake on March 12, 2016, 17:08 GMT

    Lovely article, Afghanistan should be every non-Afghan's 2nd favourite team.

  • No featured comments at the moment.