Match Analysis

Afghanistan don't yearn for sympathy, they yearn only for a win

Two impassioned screams for lbw, neither of them given, told the story of an Afghanistan side who are so close to winning, but just can't get over the line

Jarrod Kimber
Jarrod Kimber
The ball hit Ben Stokes' pad, and eight of them screamed, like this mattered to them more than anything else. All demanding, pleading, appealing, for an lbw where the ball wasn't in the same post code as the stumps. None of them need much proof. They always appeal like it is the most out dismissal they have ever seen. No matter what their view of it, they know it is out.
The umpire disagrees.
Mohammad Nabi will not get his hat trick.
The ball hit Moeen Ali's pad, and this time only two of them screamed for the wicket. Screamed like everything they had worked for, everything they wanted, was on the line. Like this mattered more to them than anything else.
Again, the umpire disagrees.
Shapoor Zadran will not get his wicket. Afghanistan will not win the match.
There are some who talk of the Afghan players like they are magical pixie fairy elves, sent from some far-off land to cheer up cricket and provide good-natured mirth. They mention that they are refugees, from a war-torn nation, outside the British Empire, who have somehow turned up in cricket tournaments.
It is a disservice to them as cricketers. As professional cricketers. Afghanistan are not here because they have some magic cricket gene, they are here because they work hard, train hard, and they have been given a great deal of funding.
USAID helped build Kabul Cricket Stadium. They brought in cricket gear for schools and cricket clubs. They constructed pitches throughout the country. They helped with training. They supported Salam Watander radio network's attempts to broadcast Afhgan away games.
From 2010 until 2014 two USAID programmes spent or programmed $2,287,934 on cricket. It wasn't just the Americans either, the Indian and German governments also invested heavily in Afghan cricket.
That also doesn't count the tough club cricket in Pakistan, the support from the ICC, the fact that they have become the trendy associate to play, that they were one of the few countries outside the big three to see extra money after the ICC takeover and that as they keep qualifying for major events they keep receiving extra funding. All of this is making them stronger. Making them better.
These are professional cricketers, doing a job, playing for a country that demands they win. The money might be smaller, but the stakes are often higher.
For five overs, England did what you would expect to an associate qualifier, even a good one. They handled their good balls, dispatched the bad ones, executed their skillsets, as they say. Jason Roy got one that skidded through him. But James Vince drove the ball so fast the grass looked like ice. Joe Root started scoring by putting big Shapoor into the crowd. His next scoring shot was a reverse lap sweep. Vince twice gave himself room and crashed Amir Hamza through the covers and England were 41 for 1 after five.
Nabi is no longer Afghanistan captain. That seems bizarre, as everything about him, with bat, or ball, screams leader
One of the world's best batsmen was at the crease, the ball was skidding onto the bat, the base had been set, and the run rate was at 8.2 an over. We know what happens from there. It didn't.
Nabi is no longer Afghanistan captain. That seems bizarre, as everything about him, with bat, or ball, screams leader. Even at bad times, he still takes over the team. But when his batting dipped after the World Cup last year, he stepped aside.
This World T20 it his bowling that has been amazing. To watch him come in, you are watching what surely must be a part-timer. His action screams "I bowl a bit of offspin". It's part-time 101, he comes in slowly, he turns his front shoulder too early, he doesn't have a powerful rotation through the crease and he's known as a batsman. But the ball does come out of his hand well. He does spin it, it does get drop, it isn't as friendly as he makes it look.
But even then his accuracy is only ok. He can drop short, does bowl wide, and sometimes the ball gets away from him. He does have a good straight ball. But mostly, he's super canny. He thinks like a batsman, and works them out at the crease. That coupled with a part-timer's action means many a batsman slips up.
When Vince backed away to give himself room, Nabi didn't panic, fire down a quick ball, he didn't go wide of off stump either, he just drifted up a slow turner straight at Vince. It bamboozled Vince so much that somehow Vince was beaten the way you are outside off stump by a ball outside leg stump. The next ball, still in a daze, Vince was out caught and bowled.
The following ball, Eoin Morgan received one of Nabi's straight ones, but he played for the one that turned.
Then there was a Root run out chance. In his haste to get back to the stumps, he knocked off the bails. But he had still had the ability to take the ball cleanly, and pick up the stump with the ball touching it. In four balls, Nabi had broken the partnership, bowled the captain and run out the star player.
Afghanistan had gone from out the game, to in front of it. Nabi was the leading wicket-taker in the tournament. Both things were pretty unlikely, and pretty amazing.
With England suddenly looking like it was all a bit much for them, Afghanistan had the opportunity with their four spinners to really go for them. They didn't. As soon as Nabi's over finished, the sixth of the match, Afghanistan instantly retreated into after-Powerplay mode. Sami Shenwari, one of their best bowlers this tournament, started against two new batsman, with his team well on top, with no attacking fielders and only the four fielders inside the circle. Nabi continued at the other end, with a slip for a few balls, before his field spread as well.
But still England managed to find the few fielders around them. Jos Buttler hit Sami straight to cover. Then Stokes fell over - bowling himself off a short one.
Still Afghanistan didn't push. They took their six wickets as a victory, and let England just find singles. Had it not been for another mistake from England when Chris Jordan found the leading edge, they would have quite happily just let England drift.
The problem came when England finished tripping over themselves.
Eventually England just found the gaps, and forgot the wickets. Top teams, with all their experience, will, if given enough chances, get it right. It may have looked to Afghanistan that they were still on top, but England were in a position to take control. One more wicket could change that.
You only need to see Shapoor bowl once to be hooked. Of all the Afghan bowlers, none is more Pakistan '90s than Shapoor. There are times when he seems to run faster than he bowls, but he does it with such pomp and swagger, his mane flying around behind him, that he almost convinces batsmen he is as fast as he once was. Afghanistan have three fast bowlers, their first hero Hamid Hassan and the silky Dawlat Zadran.
In Australia they formed a trio, but Shapoor has been the man to miss out here. But the others haven't been firing. Hassan has been bowling as if his hamstrings are made of peanut brittle, and Dawlat has struggled for consistency. So Shapoor was back, the big prancing show horse just about past his best came galloping in like a 1980s rock god and bowled to Moeen Ali.
The ball wasn't seam up, it wobbled about everywhere, but landed on a length just outside off stump, and came back in to slap into Moeen's pad as he tried to work it on the leg side. The ball flew out on the off side. Ramiz Raja, on TV, said it would miss the stumps. Our ball by ball said "missing leg-stump". The umpire didn't even really look at it seriously. The match continued as England took a run.
Later the DRS would show the ball hitting the stumps. Had it been possible to refer it, it would have been out. England would have been 102 for 8. But there was no DRS, Afghanistan had to finish the innings out, the final 16 balls with Moeen still there.
Shapoor finished his over well. Next up was left-arm spinner Amir Hamza. He had started well, even as England had gone after him in the powerplay. Hamza is not one of the Afghan players who grew up in a Pakistan refugee camp, he has learnt his cricket in Afghanistan, and is a product of their system. His left-arm spin does not turn massively, but he is clever, changes the pace well, and has a great temperament.
He had six balls to get through. A good over and his team was still on top. A great over and England were all but gone.
Inzi rubbed his beard. The other players just looked like they had been beaten. Like all their hope was gone
His team-mates in the dugout all brimmed with nervous energy. Moeen had enough and was clearly coming after him. The first ball was saved from a boundary because of great fielding, fielding they are not known for. No one could save the next ball, it was slog swept into the crowd. Hamza was always going to bowl a quicker ball straight away, Moeen knew it, and bashed it down the ground to the fence. Hamza fought back and had a decent shout for lbw, but all that did was bring Willey on strike. Nabi came over, whatever he said didn't work, two sixes followed.
The Afghan dug out went dead quiet. Everyone stared straight ahead. There was no energy, nervous or otherwise. Inzi rubbed his beard. The other players just looked like they had been beaten. Like all their hope was gone.
The little hope when they went out to bat was in the hands of Mohammad Shahzad, everyone's new favourite cricketer. A rotund rebel with the bat who plays the game as if it is to be enjoyed. Shahzad edged his first ball for four, he was unsure about his next one, and for the third he was hobbling off the ground with a bruise on his right leg and a plumb lbw.
Noor Ali was the only other batsman who looked like he could handle the English pace bowlers. When he was out, he stood at the crease for such a long time with a face as broken as the dugout had been at the end of Hamza's over.
At the end it was Shafiqullah. Twenty-four off the last over was always going to be too much, but he made sure they batted out, and finished with a slow slash through the covers.
The Afghan team were crushed. Not for the first time, not even the second, but for the third time this week they had been in a position to beat a big team, but they have lost all of them. Against Sri Lanka it was sloppiness, against South Africa it was their bowling and here against England it was one over. Just one.
They know they are close, they don't want our sympathy, they don't want to be our second favourite team, they don't want patronising, they want to win. And they are so close.
When that ball hit Moeen, Shapoor went down onto his knees. Both his arms were straight out at the umpire. His hair flopped all over his head. His eyes were wild with passion, desire, hope. Behind him Mohammad Shahzad jumped into the splits position and appealed with all he had as well. They both screamed, pleaded, like they both knew, that this ball was it. They are professional cricketers; they know how to read a game. If they got that one wicket, right then, maybe they could keep England down to a total they could get.
That next over, that over, went for 25. Afghanistan lost by 15. The over that will haunt Hamza for a long time, his team-mates will replay it in their minds for years to come. That will make them train harder, that will inspire them to get better. That damn over. Those damn lbws.
They knew how much that over cost them. They knew how much that wicket could have helped. They know how close they are. They know how much they want it.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber