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Feature

Asghar Afghan does his bit in emotional farewell to lift Afghanistan towards new highs

He leaves Afghanistan cricket in safe hands on the field - Mohammad Nabi and Co showed as much in their clinical take down of Namibia

Deivarayan Muthu
31-Oct-2021
Rashid Khan comes into the attack in the eighth over of Afghanistan's defence of 160 and strikes with his very first delivery to knock over Namibia's Zane Green for 1. The Afghanistan fans at Gates A11 and A12 in the Sheikh Zayed Stadium greet Rashid's first-ball strike with big cheers. But the biggest cheer of them all on Sunday is reserved for Asghar Afghan when he is being carried off the field by Gulbadin Naib, with Naveen-ul-Haq and Najibullah Zadran holding his hands, after what is his last match.
The Afghanistan fans chant: "Asghar! Asghar! Asghar!" and wave the national flag around even more vigorously than they had done when Asghar walked out to bat earlier in the afternoon. Some of them break into jigs when Asghar thanks them for their love and support. Standing next to Asghar, Naveen dedicates his Player-of-the-Match award to his first national captain at the senior level.
Asghar was part of Afghanistan's first-ever T20 World Cup squad that had travelled to the Caribbean more than 11 years go. Naveen, who was only ten years old back then, took to cricket at that point, after watching Afghanistan break onto the biggest stage.
Now, Naveen pays rich tribute to Asghar , calling him the best captain Afghanistan have had, as their supporters get their chants going once again in the background. "Asghar! Asghar! Asghar!"
The numbers back Naveen up: Asghar holds the record for most wins as a captain in T20I cricket.

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Asghar had been removed as captain in the lead-up to the 2019 ODI World Cup. Then, in December the same year, he was reappointed captain after Afghanistan ended that World Cup without a win. However, 15 months later, Asghar was sacked again, with the board experimenting with a split-captaincy model. Then, minutes after Afghanistan had announced their squad for the 2021 T20 World Cup, Rashid stepped down from T20I captaincy, protesting against the squad being selected without conferring with him.
Mohammad Nabi took over the leadership amid the chaos, and on Sunday it all came full circle as he combined with Asghar to set the scene for Afghanistan's thumping victory against Namibia, raising their hopes of progressing to semi-finals.
Nabi and Asghar make for contrasting characters. If Nabi is an international hip-hop superstar, Asghar is a more traditional Attan dancer. Nabi gives the ball an almighty whack; Asghar gently knocks it around. Nabi rocks the floppy hat; Asghar wears the standard cap. Nabi is a short-format globetrotter, having had stints in the IPL, BBL, CPL, BPL, PSL and even the Hundred. Asghar has never played league cricket outside of Afghanistan.
When the pair got together in Abu Dhabi, Afghanistan were in a spot of bother at 113 for 4 in the 16th over. Legspinner Jan Nicol Loftie-Eaton was turning the ball big and also getting it to skid off the pitch. Namibia's pack of left-armers were varying their pace and bowling into the track.
Nabi needed just one sighter - a flicked single to square leg - and second ball he slapped JJ Smit between cover and point for four, in the 17th over. In the next over, David Wiese darted in a wide yorker, and Nabi sat back and chopped it away to the left of short third man for four.
In the next over, when Ruben Trumpelmann, Netherlands' previous match-winner, ventured a slower cutter into the pitch, Nabi lined it up and clobbered it over midwicket for six.
Asghar doesn't have as much power, but he did his bit to keep the scoreboard ticking. When Jan Frylink erred too full, Asghar got underneath the length and lofted it, just about clearing long-off. The ball landed in front of the Afghanistan dug-out, as Mohammad Shahzad animatedly applauded Asghar. He then hit Smit for two fours in a 16-run over.
Realising that the straight boundary was too big for him to clear, Asghar aimed for the "V" behind the wicket. Trumpelmann, however, took pace off and took the ball away from Asghar's reach, and had him scooping a catch to fly slip. Trumpelmann immediately congratulated Asghar and patted him on his back. The dismissal hushed the crowd, but they celebrated again when their hero walked through a guard of honour into the dug-out. Head coach Lance Klusener then ushered him into the dressing room. And just like that he was gone.
Nabi went on to Afghanistan the finishing kick they needed, taking them to 160 for 5. Asghar then teared up at the innings break when he was asked about his decision to retire midway through the tournament.
"I wanted to give an opportunity to youngsters," he told the host broadcaster. "Most of the people asked me why I don't play till the end of the tournament. It's something I cannot explain. In the last match [against Pakistan], we were hurt too much, and that's why I decided to retire.
"There's plenty of memories. It's very difficult when you retire. It's very difficult to explain but I have to retire."
Among those memories would be giving Afghanistan the belief that they could not only compete at the top level but also win. On the eve of Afghanistan's T20 World Cup match against West Indies in 2016, Asghar (Stanikzai then) said: "In the next one or two years we will be a serious team and beat these Full Members very easily, as we have potential."
In 2018, Asghar captained Afghanistan in their first-ever Test, against India in Bengaluru. In 2019, in their second Test, under Asghar, they secured their first win, against Ireland in Dehradun, their adopted home.
Now, they've became such a serious contender in T20 cricket that at this World Cup they are second only to Pakistan on points in a group that includes New Zealand and India.
At the post-match press conference, Asghar said that he is confident of leaving Afghanistan cricket in "safe hands". In the safe hands of Nabi, who is rallying this team despite the political turbulence back home. In the safe hands of Rashid, who is a white-ball phenom already. In the safe hands of Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who could be future white-ball stars. In the safe hands of Naveen, who is always ready to bowl the tough overs.
Farewell Asghar, you've taught them all well.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo