Matches (11)
ZIM v WI (1)
SA20 (2)
Ranji Trophy (2)
BPL 2023 (4)
ENG-L in SL (1)
ILT20 (1)

Mighty Afghans find their voice

As their side stumbled towards victory, Afghanistan's fans helped provide the final impetus and turned Dunedin into a corner of Kandahar

Afghanistan raised their World Cup flag with victory in Dunedin  •  AFP

Afghanistan raised their World Cup flag with victory in Dunedin  •  AFP

"Everywhere we go-o
People want to know-o
Who we are, where we come from
So we tell them, we are the Afghans
Mighty, mighty Afghans"
The handful of Afghanistan supporters who had travelled from around New Zealand - a couple from Australia, too - had turned one corner of the University Oval into Kandahar. Most of them now settled in the southern hemisphere once lived around the historical city. One among them left Kandahar in 2000 and moved temporarily to Peshawar, in Pakistan, before finally establishing a base in New Zealand. That was before cricket had taken over as Afghanistan's No. 1 sport from boxing, wrestling and buzkashi.
He had flown down along with his wife and two daughters from Auckland to watch the two Dunedin games. The group around him were all friends and family, dressed in their best kurtas and embroidered vests, complete with matching pakols on their heads, speaking in Pashto and English together, waving two big flags and delivering their own version of the chant from Remember the Titans to ensure their players did not feel alone.
The first time the chant went up was in the 33rd over of Scotland's innings when Hamid Hassan, standing at mid-off dived forward to pluck up a low chance off Shapoor Zadran's bowling. Hassan had been signing autographs for the group only a while ago and was quick to respond with a wave. The group, on its feet now, kept repeating the chant knowing they were being heard. It grew louder as Dawlat Zadran struck four overs later and directed his celebration towards the supporters. But it was the last time in a while that the chant was heard as Scotland's lower order frustrated Afghanistan to stretch the total to 210.
Many things can hurt a newcomer in a big tournament like this. It could be swing, bounce, the wind chill, the quality of the opposition, or just being in a foreign country. Afghanistan had a good start to the tournament in Canberra before Bangladesh fought back strongly; they were much closer against Sri Lanka in Dunedin three days ago only to see Mahela Jayawardene and Thisara Perera shut doors on them.
But today was Afghanistan's big day. They believed it. And, as they opted to bowl, their fans believed it too.
On the eve of this match, Afghanistan batsman Javed Ahmadi had said people back home wanted to see them beat a Full Member but mid-way through the second innings it appeared that, in aiming for bigger targets, they had taken lightly an opposition not dissimilar to them.
Following a slump from 85 for 2 to 97 for 7, 114 away from a win, things turned rather bleak, enough to send their supporters into despair. They hadn't seen this coming. They didn't want to see what was coming. For the next few overs, the quiet in that little corner was making its presence felt. It probably helped the two batsmen in the middle. Passion can drive adrenaline, which was exactly what was not needed.
Samiullah Shenwari and Dawlat took the approach that had helped Scotland's lower order survive - prevent any further damage. Only 10 runs came as they blocked the next six overs, biding time in hope that there would be a release somewhere. So did their fans. They quietly saw the match unfold, felt Shenwari's agony when Dawlat played an absurd shot to be dismissed, probably expected the worst at that stage but, throughout, the two big Afghanistan flags stayed up, fluttering in the chilly breeze.
The clouds of despair only showed signs of lifting when Shenwari smashed a six and a four of consecutive deliveries in the 39th over. The six was Shenwari's first, the four a confirmation of a signal that the chase was on. That sign was read on the grass banks as a call for back-up. Shenwari was going to take control but he needed support. And so they screamed again, "Mighty, mighty Afghans", for the only the third time in the day. The neutral supporters had come in with the promise of being Scotland's back-up but they didn't really care to take sides; they were just loving the fight.
Shenwari would go on to hit three sixes in the 47th over, the third one landing just in front of the Afghan group. He was dismissed in the same over but then the back-up troops took over. They were up and running every single with their last pair. As Shapoor ran towards midwicket after hitting the winning runs, they ran towards him; as he knelt down with his arms outstretched, they were facing him with theirs open. With some 20 yards between them, they were all in one embrace.
"When we see the crowd, we get more happy, and we feel that we have more company," Shenwari said after the match. "When we get a wicket, or a boundary, we get a shout, so we feel so good."
As the rest trickled away, the Afghan supporters walked right by the dressing room to get closer to their players, chanting "Mighty Afghans" followed by "Afghanistan Zindabad". The slick ground DJ, never to miss a trick, was quick to switch to Afghan tunes, transforming this lush corner of the world temporarily to Kandahar once again.

Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo