To fathom a convincing six-wicket loss against Bangladesh in the ICC World Cup 2023 opener is tough for former Afghanistan skipper Asghar Afghan. To fathom a loss against the Australians after having their backs against the wall at 91-7, in a chase of 292 and missing out on semis qualification, is even tougher for Asghar Afghan. The team that had players like Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, and Rahmat Shah in their ranks, did brilliantly well to be in a stage to qualify for the semis, but couldn’t hold its nerves to go the distance.
With four wins in the World Cup 2023, Afghanistan gave a fair account of themselves, and what they are capable of achieving. But that is just not enough for Asghar, who knows the team could have made it to the last four. He is shocked and believes Afghanistan let this opportunity go, and once again highlighted the areas where the team could have fared better. In an exclusive interaction with Insidesport in Ranchi during the Legends League Cricket 2023, Asghar explained in detail, ‘what went wrong’ in the matches versus Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
“We have been playing in India for the last eight years, and have also played in all the grounds. For the longest time, we trained at Greater Noida, and then played a good number of matches in stadiums as well. So it does not come as a surprise that Afghanistan reached as far as it did,” Asghar said. “But given the quality of our spin attack, we should have made it to the semis. We had a chance. We wasted that.”
The First Match Pressure
After being put into bat, apart from Rahmanullah Gurbaz, none of the batters showed spark, as Afghanistan was bundled out for 156. Their bowling mainstay Rashid Khan went wicketless, which ended the match rather quickly, and without a fight. The Afghani veteran lamented the lost opportunity. “Knowing our team, I think in the match against Bangladesh, we would have been better off chasing.
“It was the first match and we could not handle the pressure. The nerves would have eased out definitely had we chased in that match. The players looked a bit disturbed too. We have time and again beaten them, so there was no reason, apart from this, to lose against Bangladesh. The pitch was anyways supporting our spinners, but we did not have enough runs on the board.”
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No Tactical Thinking with Aussies
After dominating 90% of this match, which could have been Afghanistan’s ticket to the World Cup semis, they just threw it away from there. The team let Glenn Maxwell score 200, despite him getting cramps for the major part of his innings. This tactical blunder still gives Asghar a nightmare. He went on to say that the team did not put any sort of pressure on the struggling Maxwell, feeding him deliveries in his arc, allowing him to hit 21 fours and 10 sixes.
“Honestly, I was sitting and watching the match with some of the ex-cricketers and was close to calling up the team manager. I wanted to tell him, ‘what to do’. I wanted to convey the message since Maxwell was injured, it was a good idea to get the pacers and bowl him short. The other option was with the spinners. The spinners could have bowled him a line where he could have been propelled to sweep the ball. That would have been painful for the batsman, who was already injured. But then eventually, I did not want the team in any trouble, so I didn’t say anything.”
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Without mincing words over some of the decisions Hasmatullah Shahidi took, Asghar added, “The skipper and the experienced bowlers should have read this. Technically and tactically we should have read it better. We didn’t do all that. The bowlers and the captain ran out of ideas there.
“I was really upset when all that happened, and I still think about that all. In fact, I spoke to all the players after the match. I think Hashmat, though a wonderful captain and player, isn’t that experienced and that showed,” he concluded.
(Asghar Afghan is in India currently and playing in the Legends League Cricket for Urbanrisers Hyderabad)