In their last four World Cup matches, Afghanistan were competitive. They gave India some nervous moments, fought hard against Bangladesh, had Pakistan in a bit of a tangle and were in the driver’s seat against West Indies in their last match before nerves got the better of them.
These performances were more in line with the hope they had inspired with the cricket they had played in the recent past. Their spinners are world class and they were expected to trouble even the more experienced teams.
During the last match against West Indies, which resulted in Afghanistan’s 12th straight loss in the World Cup, the commentators were discussing what the country needs to do to get better. There were various suggestions: the batting needs to get better, they need better fast bowlers, their first-class cricket needs to develop and even how they need to keep the veterans around to pass on the lessons to the youngsters.
Most consecutive losses in World Cups
18 - Zimbabwe (1983-92)
14 - Scotland (1999-15)
12 - Afghanistan (2015-19) **
11 - Canada (2003-11)
But the thing that none of the commentators mentioned was how neither the ICC nor the older cricket-playing nations have really helped Afghanistan level up their cricket. Yes, India has allowed them to set up base in Dehradun and play Test cricket there but we are talking about a different kind of help. No, this is not about money either.
On the contrary, this goes down to a very basic level. What is the one thing you need most to get better as a team? You can slog away in the nets, play intra-team matches and even get the odd game against an established team but the one thing that any new team needs is competitive and regular cricket against the best in the business; against teams of a higher standard.
The results might be disheartening at first but it would have allowed the Afghanistan players to get a true understanding of where they really stand as a team. Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi have made their mark in T20 leagues around the world. Mujeeb Ur Rahman is another one to keep an eye out for. Ikram Ali Khil, just 18, showed against the West Indies that he too might flourish on the big stage.
But for the group to band together – their competition has to be more than just Ireland, Scotland and Zimbabwe. Since taking part in the 2015 World Cup, the Afghans have played Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe in the UAE, Scotland in Scotland, Ireland in Ireland, Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe, Ireland in India [home ground], West Indies in the West Indies, Ireland in the UAE, Zimbabwe in the UAE, ICC Cricket World Cup qualifier, Ireland in Ireland, the Asia Cup, Ireland in India [home ground], Scotland in Scotland, Ireland in Ireland and the 2019 World Cup.
The one tournament where they might have faced opposition vastly better than them was the Asia Cup and they performed beyond expectations there. But the thing to be noticed is this: no matches against Australia, England, New Zealand. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and even Bangladesh haven’t featured very prominently either, playing only the Asia Cup recently.
As a team, Afghanistan have played a total of 123 ODIs. But of those matches, 65 have come against Ireland, Scotland and Zimbabwe. South Africa have played them once, England and New Zealand have played them just twice, Australia and India have played them thrice, Pakistan and Sri Lanka four times.
|v Hong Kong||2014-2018||2||1||1||0||0|
|v New Zealand||2015-2019||2||0||2||0||0|
|v South Africa||2019-2019||1||0||1||0||0|
|v Sri Lanka||2014-2019||4||1||3||0||0|
|v West Indies||2017-2019||6||3||2||0||1|
By letting the established cricket nations get away with this behaviour time and again, the International Cricket Council isn’t exactly helping the game. For cricket to survive, it needs a larger number of nations playing the game at a higher level and for that to happen, the nations that are already playing at a high level need to look beyond short-term commercial goals.
Bangladesh played their first Test in 2000 – it has been almost 20 years – but Australia have still played just 6 Tests against them, India have played just 9, England just 10. How is that going to help? The reasons Bangladesh took so long to come of age was down to how much cricket they got against top-quality teams.
Now, the ICC is letting the same thing happen to Afghanistan. Established nations don’t want to play Afghanistan because the series wouldn’t work from an economic or broadcast point of view but is that the only way to look at the problem?
The ICC might turn around and say that they have no control over bilateral cricket but when they decide to give a team ODI or Test status, they must have certain provisions in place; provisions that go beyond tokenism and really look to help the new cricket nation.
And for that – India, Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan and every other top cricket nation must want to help willingly. Not for the love of money but for the love of the game.