Afghanistan's World Cup success isn't a surprise

They are a competitive side that has continued to improve

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Jonathan Trott speaks in the team huddle, Afghanistan vs South Africa, 1st semi-final, Tarouba, T20 World Cup, June 26, 2024

Afghanistan are not a team to be overawed by their opponents  •  ICC/Getty Images

Afghanistan beating Australia and eventually reaching the semi-final of the T20 World Cup constituted a major upset but it wasn't a surprise.
Afghanistan is a competitive side that made their intentions clear in the 2010 Caribbean T20 World Cup. "We are not here to make up the numbers," they said and then lived up to that lofty claim. Afghanistan has continued to improve and they are mentally strong.
In addition to producing some world-class cricketers, Afghanistan continues to challenge the better teams. This is not always the case with minnows or even some Test-playing nations - take Bangladesh, for instance.
Bangladesh have threatened improvement at times but they regularly fail at the big hurdles. You could never accuse Afghanistan of being overawed by their opponents. Australia has refused to play Afghanistan in the past because of their Taliban rules, especially regarding women, which would only add to the satisfaction of beating the former T20 World champions. It also doesn't help that Australia has a reputation for succumbing against good spin bowling. This is an unwanted flaw that is quickly understood by opposing teams.
Afghanistan then produced a magical win over Bangladesh, albeit clouded by controversy, to make the semi-final. The controversy concerned a player's cramp and brought into focus the position of the coach, in this case former England player Jonathan Trott.
A persistent concern of mine around the position of coach is that they can favour their own interests (retaining a coaching contract) over those of the team's priorities. This appeared to be the case when team captain Rashid Khan made clear his displeasure with the Afghanistan player's antics.
The important thing was the result, as Afghanistan earned their semi-final spot.
However, the integrity of the tournament was flawed from the moment it was decided India was playing the second semi-final in Guyana whether they finished first or second in their group. This blatant scheduling bias accommodated the morning start time of the second semi-final, which favoured Indian prime time television.
This was further confirmation - if any was needed - that the bottom line is a major deciding factor among cricket's administrators. Cricket's financial integrity will continue to be a problem as long the imbalance remains, with India providing at least 70% of the finances.
Afghanistan's magical run came to a sudden halt when South Africa avoided their trademark World Cup semi-final meltdown by producing a bowling masterclass. They dismissed Afghanistan cheaply and then batted sensibly to enter the final.
Cricket's financial integrity will continue to be a problem as long the imbalance remains, with India providing at least 70% of the finances
In the other semi-final India proved to be far too strong for England, as skipper Rohit Sharma led the team with a typically brave batting performance. The spin bowlers, with the revived Kuldeep Yadav displaying his vast improvement, then dismantled the England batting and India were safely into the final.
The India versus South Africa final is a battle of two unbeaten sides and most importantly the best teams in this competition.
The hope in a major tournament is that the final will feature the two best teams and they then provide a spectacle worthy of the occasion. South Africa have blatantly focused on T20 cricket lately, so they'll claim this is vindication of that policy but they still have to overcome their bad habit of wilting in major World Cup matches.
If that South African trait continues, India will win comfortably. Nevertheless South Africa maintain that this team is a different proposition and its captain, Aiden Markram, has already experienced World Cup success, albeit at the Under-19 level in 2014.
India, on the other hand, has plenty of World Cup big-match experience and a captain in Rohit who has a pedigree of success. Both teams have well balanced pace attacks, but India's spin bowling is superior.
A lot will depend on the way South Africa reacts to the pressure of a final. In the compressed nature of T20, a mistake can be terminal and judging by South Africa's previous World Cup history, India is the team most likely to be lifting the trophy.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist