With the 2019 edition of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup set to begin in May, we look back at the most memorable moments from the tournament’s four-decade-long history. You can read the entire series here.
Moment No 18
It ain’t over till the fat lady sings is an oft repeated phrase in sports with players, coaches and even commentators hanging on to this straw of hope when the going gets tough.
The two Champions League semi-finals between Liverpool vs Barcelona and Ajax vs Tottenham last week showed how unpredictable sporting contests can be and anyone punting on a result based on the trend or flow of play should do so at their own risk.
While top-flight cricket matches have registered many such turning points in the past, not many expected such turn of events when the Associate teams were involved, despite some incredible upsets by the underdogs since they got an entry in the cricket World Cup. Be it Zimbabwe beating Australia in 1983 or Kenya beating West Indies in 1996 or Ireland beating Pakistan in 2007 and England in 2011, all these results added their own charm to the competition.
One such thrilling contest between associate nations lit the 2015 edition of the tournament, before the big boys raised the bar even further. Newcomers Afghanistan changed the course of their cricket history with a performance that laid the foundation for them to earn Test status in just three years.
For the major part of the contest, no one would have bet on the new comers registering their first World Cup win on that day.
Having missed out on qualifying for the 2011 World Cup, Afghanistan had done well to reach the quadrennial event in 2015 but lost the opening match against Bangladesh by 105 runs. They gave good account of themselves during the four-wicket loss against former champions Sri Lanka in the second match and managed to carry that confidence against Scotland.
Afghanistan won the toss and opted to bowl first on a lively University Oval wicket in Dunedin and it looked like their decision paid off as medium pacers Shapoor Zadran (4/38) and Dawlat Zadran (3/29) reduced the opponents to 144/8 before a ninth-wicket partnership of 62 runs between Majid Haq (31) and Alasdair Evans (28) took the Scots beyond the 200 run mark.
A target of 211 in seam friendly conditions was never going to be easy for a team from Asia and despite a run-a-ball 51 from opener Javed Ahmadi, Afghanistan were reduced to 97/7 from a comfortable 85/3 at one stage.
Ahmadi lost patience after scoring quick runs initially and ended up throwing away his wicket. Haq dropped eventual man-of-the-match Samiullah Shenwari (96 of 147 balls) off the very next ball in slip. But it looked like the miss wouldn’t hurt the Scots much as they were on the brink of their first World Cup victory.
But Shenwari was keen to make them pay for the lapse and decided to put his head down and build a partnership with the tail to try and take the match into the death overs. He first added 35 runs for the eighth wicket with Dawlat and then stitched a record ninth wicket partnership for Afghanistan with Hamid Hassan to change the course of the match.
And it was Haq who was finally at the receiving end when Shenwari decided to cut loose in the 47th over. The strapping Afghanistan batsman hit the off-spinner for three sixes before throwing it all away with a slog sweep that ended up in the hands of Josh Davey at deep mid-wicket.
With 19 runs to get in 18 balls and just one wicket in hand, Afghanistan were clearly the underdogs. But this is when Scotland failed to tighten the noose and No 11 Shapoor showed nerves of steel to see his team through.
Having dealt mostly in singles since Shenwari’s departure, Shapoor got an additional ball to play in the penultimate over when Richie Berrington bowled a wide with Afghanistan needing 10 runs from 7 deliveries.
Berrington, Scotland’s most successful bowler with figures of 4/40, was guilty of bowling the additional delivery on the batsmen’s pads and Shapoor made no mistakes in flicking it to the fine leg boundary.
Shapoor got another life line on the second ball of the final over when Matt Machan failed to hit the stumps from mid-wicket with the batsman way out of his crease. Looking for a yorker, Iain Wardlaw then ended up bowling a full toss on Shapoor’s legs and he duly dispatched it the square-leg fence to kick off wild celebrations in the Afghanistan camp.
Speaking about what was going on in his mind when the team was struggling at 97/7, Shenwari said, “We just needed to stay there and push the game in deep. It was big tension for me, my heart was beating so fast and I had to say to myself control it, control it, control it. Dawlat stayed with me, and that’s what I said to him. Even if it’s a maiden or a single, don’t think about that. Just wait for the last five overs. “He was always telling me I can hit, but I said I can hit and I am not hitting, so why do you want to?”
Though, Shenwari ultimately fell trying to hit the big shot, Shapoor and Hassan ensured that they stayed till completed the job for him and the team.
You can watch the highlights of Afghanistan’s chase here.