Cricket has unwritten rules. One of which is the agreed upon single. If the fielding team has someone out on the boundary, and you hit the ball pretty much straight at them, you take the single. On two occasions Sri Lanka scored four runs instead of the agreed upon one run.
You can have opening bowlers who can touch 90 miles per hour. You can unearth a teenage legspinner. And you can have any person from No. 1 to 9 in your order who is capable, and willing, to hit a six first ball they face. But cricket at this level requires more. It requires the basics.
Getting down low and watching the ball into your hand. Throwing the ball safely into the wicketkeeper's general vicinity from 30 yards. Batsmen rotating the strike. Looking for twos. Building partnerships. Rushing between overs. Backing up. Not standing in front of the stumps when a throw comes in. Respecting the good ball. Grouping the ball in good areas. Watching the ball.
Afghanistan as a cricket nation dripping with talent. They often bully the Associates, who dream of days when they can find cricketers of this quality. But the rest of the Associates often make up for their lack of talent with cricket basics. In modern coach-speak they talk of the one percenters. Controlling the controllables. Not letting the ball through your legs and gifting the opposition three extra runs for a shot and ball that deserved only one run, in a position that you were specifically placed to ensure would mean only one run.
Sri Lanka took their foot off Afghanistan's throat. Sri Lanka dropped multiple catches. Sri Lanka lost half their wickets to run outs. But Sri Lanka still looked like they knew what they were doing, like they were in charge, maybe not in form, or even great quality, but that as a team they knew the basic fundamentals of the game.
Afghanistan looked like a firecracker in a steel drum.
Their top scorer, the captain Asghar Stanikzai, was equal parts international batsman and first timer. His innings wasn't built, it fell into place despite some of his best efforts. Mohammad Shahzad, their star batsman of the tournament, looked lost without the slow pitch of Nagpur, and he seemed to start walking off halfway through his shot.
Mohammad Nabi played Rangana Herath like someone who was facing the world's best spinner when last week he was facing a 44-year-old former wicketkeeper turned part-time spinner. No amount of convincing can say that Karim Sadiq was looking at the ball, his seventh scoreless ball, that dismissed him. Noor Ali looked like a beautiful batsman who fundamentally believed in pretty shots over singles. And Najibullah Zadran is quickly becoming an interesting form of insurance as a specialist No. 9.
Their coach Inzamam-ul-Haq believes they need more exposure. In the case of facing Herath, that is undoubtedly true. But they also struggled against Dushmantha Chameera. He is of the same pace of their own bowlers. In many ways he is the sort of raw quick bowler that Afghanistan have so many of. But after a two off his first ball, they never scored more than a single off him. They played and missed, they were hit, they were awkward and they found no way to change or challenge him. His first two overs went for seven runs. Without Shahzad to blast, it seemed no one else could really score. So at the ten-over mark they had 47 runs.
They hit over a hundred runs in the next ten. They almost got enough to force a close game. But after their slow start, they fumbled in the field. Many teams are using a plus/minus fielding system for this World T20 to judge themselves in the field. You don't need a team of analysts to tell you Afghanistan were below bar. The many times their fielders had to turn and collect the ball they had just missed did that.
The frustrating thing is even with all the fundamentals being locked in some closet at the Kabul Cricket stadium, they still pushed Sri Lanka. They humbled them in the second ten overs when they batted, scoring at such a rate that Angelo Mathews tactics couldn't catch up.
Their spinners took their only wickets. Rashid Khan controlled his wrong'un well. Nabi continues to be in the form of his life with the ball. And there is probably a weird explanation for why Samiullah Shenwari was criminally under bowled. Shahzad's run out of Thisara Perera was a triumph over his own lack of athleticism.
This is an Associate team, who pushed a World T20 reigning champions, without really playing that well. What happens when they do play well? That is probably the dream, or if you are playing them later on in the tournament, the nightmare.
There is nothing they can't do, but a lot of things they don't do.