Afghanistan had high hopes in this tournament. While semi-finals always looked far fetched, they were expecting at least one win, maybe two or three, and to be competitive in most if not all. Considering that they won the World Cup Qualifier, beating West Indies twice in that tournament, as well as a third time in the warm-ups, and have also been beating the likes of Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh regularly, they hoped for so much more.
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Arguably the biggest team positive has been that they nearly beat India. While some have argued that the big hitting later on simply made it look close, they actually could have won it, right up until Mohammad Shami’s last over, when he took the first of the three wickets in a row. The full hat-trick wasn’t needed – just Nabi’s wicket was enough – but until Nabi fell they were still in with a chance.
The match against Pakistan was even closer, and, realistically, Afghanistan should have won, right up until the 46th over of Pakistan’s innings when captain Gulbadin Naib decided to bowl himself, bowling pace when spin had been effective, and when there were enough spin overs left that he didn’t need to bowl. His over went for 18 and the match went from winning to losing. If that wasn’t bad enough, with Pakistan near certain to win, Gulbadin Naib put the nail in the coffin by bowling the final over as well. Whether he is the worst captain in the world or was actually taking a bribe to throw the match, there can be no doubt that they threw away what was otherwise a winning position.
Mohammad Nabi’s form has been good, carrying on from his IPL form, and it might have been better had he been named captain.
They were favourites to beat Sri Lanka but looked to have thrown it away until they came back, and suddenly were winning, and then they collapsed, throwing away a winning position that they had worked hard for, and that was in many ways a watershed moment, as in their next few matches they looked like they weren’t trying. Rather than show their usual fight and make their opponents earn their wins, instead they were just gifted easy massive victories.
Rashid Khan, easily their best bowler and until recently the world number 1, was appallingly bad, and there was no real reason for it. While the pitches were not particularly helpful to spinners, that he went from Afghanistan’s best to their worst was appalling. It wasn’t just one off day either – it was consistently awful all tournament long, and it just didn’t make sense.
Perhaps the worst part, though, was that one of their older champions, Mohammad Shahzad, was sent home after suffering an apparent injury, only to appear on local media claiming not to be injured at all and then he threatened to resign in disgust at being kicked out of their team. While it remains something of a mystery as to why he would say such things unless they were true, there can be no doubt that, true or not, it was an unwanted distraction.
The fact that Afghanistan sit winless after 8 of their 9 matches, and will likely finish winless, is beyond disappointing. They couldn’t have asked for worse.
It’s not just that they were the worst team, but so much more was hoped from them. In every facet they were worse than they should have been. Had Scotland qualified ahead of them, as they would have but for a poor umpiring decision, one wonders if they would have been this awful.