Afghanistan probably feel like they don’t deserve to play Test cricket at this moment. It has barely been twenty-four hours since they lost their maiden Test against India inside two days, so that sinking feeling is surely still eating into their sleep-deprived skin. It is natural for athletes to question their every move and add significance to every occurrence.
Cricket, however, would be better served if Afghanistan looked at the hammering as a lesson, instead of harping on it as one of their, if not the, most humiliating losses.
They could have done a lot of things differently during the course of the Test: bowlers could have been more disciplined, fielders should have shown more intent, and batsmen needed to show patience. That’s how Test cricket is played.
One could perhaps get away with faltering on these three fronts in limited-overs cricket, and even that only to a certain degree in this day and age, but when it comes to the longest format, weak teams are given five days to be found out. India, though, took two to unravel every chink in Afghanistan’s ill-equipped armoury.
To put behind the sights and sounds from the M Chinnaswamy stadium on June 14 and 15 might take a while, but if they could clutch on to the pride of their decade-long journey to make it to the pinnacle of the sport, the process may just seem less arduous.
Easier said than done, but it needs to be done because what would cricket be without stories of grit, perseverance and astounding character?
To put things in perspective, Afghanistan were fighting out against the likes of Nepal, Mozambique, Botswana and Vanuatu in the World Cricket League Division Five in 2008. They stuttered on several occasions but they won all but one game to claim the title and make it to Division Four. The same year, they won the Division Four title and made it to Global Division Three for 2009.
Though the opposition grew in quality, the same bunch of men managed to up the ante each time. Division Three was won in 2009 and they made it to the 2009 World Cup qualifier before finishing fifth, one spot ahead of Ireland, to qualify for the Intercontinental Cup. Significantly, that win helped them gain One-Day International status until 2014. Between 2011 and 2014, Afghanistan even managed to shed their Affiliate status and become an Associate member.
Then came the 2015 World Cup, series victories against Zimbabwe and Ireland… basically, they did everything perceivable over the last ten years to make it this far. More importantly, they showed gumption and love and emotion and heart at a time when cricket was being sidelined by the very fans that made it. Fixing, spot-fixing, betting, doping, ball-tampering, you name it, cricket was cracking from the inside and it was one of the most controversy-ridden phases in its long history. And during these testing times, in some corner of a news feed, there would be a little write up on men from a war-torn nation leaping forth.
It’s easy to look at Afghanistan now and say “ah, another a Test playing nation” when they really should be saying “wow, what a story”. People should invest time in reading up on everything their players have endured in their problematic provinces and their climb up cricket ranks.
And Afghanistan isn’t only about Rashid Khan or Mujeeb Ur Rahman. The Indian Premier League is very good at creating legends and dropping them just as quickly. Real talent, however, stands the test, and so far the duo has done admirably. But Afghanistan is as much about the Noor Ali Zadrans, the Nawroz Mangals, the Karim Sadiqs, as it about Rashid and Mujeeb. They were the pioneers.
Speaking of pioneers, a glance at the Division Five scorecards will bring forth a couple of names: Asghar Stanikzai and Mohammad Nabi. Yes, the same men who stood with their chest out and tears in their eyes during the anthem on occasion of their first Test.
Stanikzai and Nabi have served their nation for long and it won’t be long before they make way for the next generation. The good thing is that besides laying a strong foundation and investing time in identifying the next set to take Afghanistan forward, they have been instrumental in giving their nation a new dream to chase.
Ireland may have done better – much better – than Afghanistan, in their maiden Test against Pakistan, but if Phil Simmons’s assessment is to be taken seriously, they don’t have much talent coming through. Meaning, once this generation of Ireland’s players are done, they will need a miracle to keep the gears oiled. Afghanistan, on the other hand, are churning out players at breakneck speeds, a conveyor belt of talent almost.
The successors will now understand what it takes to remain relevant in Tests. Perhaps they’ll now want to work on the basics needed to plug those gaps instead of depending on stray wizardry to stun opponents in T20s and ODIs.
In that sense, Ajinkya Rahane’s India have done Afghanistan a favour by decimating them.
Word of advice: take it on the chin and move on Afghanistan. It’s onwards and upwards from here!