The 2023 ICC World Cup was a watershed moment for cricket in Afghanistan, given the team that had won just one match across the 2015 and 2019 editions ended up winning four out of nine in 2023, beating former champions England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka along the way.
At one point, the team was even in the reckoning for the semi-finals alongside New Zealand and Pakistan, with the Hashmatullah Shahidi-led side eventually falling short following a defeat against South Africa in Ahmedabad and finishing sixth on the points table.
Things, however, might have been very different for the Afghans had they managed to defeat Australia at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on 7 November, where they had the eventual winners of the mega event on the mat at one stage after setting them a challenging 292 to win. In the end, it was one man and one man alone — all-rounder Glenn Maxwell — who got them over the line with what is widely described as one of the greatest knocks in cricketing history.
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Former captain Asghar Afghan, however, felt that the Afghan Atalan might have ended up on the winning side on that Tuesday evening had they been a little more tactically astute, given Maxwell was cramping up badly in the hot and sultry conditions in Mumbai and was hardly able to move at the crease as a result.
“Glenn Maxwell was injured and the captain could have used common sense. The team just needed better tactics to dismiss Maxwell. They knew he wasn’t able to move his feet, and could’ve pitched the ball a little wider or brought square leg midwicket or fine leg inside the circle, forcing him to play the sweep, a shot he would have had immense difficulty executing the state that he was in,” Afghan told Firstpost in an exclusive chat on the sidelines of the Legends League Cricket, where he represents the Urbanrisers Hyderabad franchise that has made it to the final.
“He might have had to retire hurt playing that shot, and once he was off the ground there was no way he would be able to get that same momentum. Once you leave the ground and return later, you have to hit the reset button. That’s one area where I feel we got a little impatient.
“The captain and his team probably thought they were one wicket away from winning the game, and perhaps got a little complacent. One can never really relax in a game of cricket until the match is over. We failed to finish the game and our team went into a relaxed state and that’s why we lost,” Afghan added.
Opener Ibrahim Zadran struck a patient 129 to power Afghanistan to a commanding 291/5. Australia, in reply, got off to the worst possible start, losing opener Travis Head with just four runs on the board in the second over of the chase. David Warner and Mitchell Marsh would then briefly revive the innings with a 39-run second-wicket stand before the Aussies suffered a proper batting meltdown, getting reduced to 91/7.
Pacers Naveen-ul-Haq and Azmatullah Omerzai ran through the top five before star leg-spinner Rashid Khan dismissed Marcus Stoinis and Mitchell Starc to have the Aussies staring at an embarrassing defeat.
Maxwell, however, had other plans. The all-rounder was dropped on 33 by Mujeeb-ur-Rahman at short fine-leg shortly after the fall of the seventh wicket. He would then make the most of the reprieve by stitching a match-winning 202-run stand for the eighth-wicket with skipper Pat Cummins, who blocked his way through at the other end during his unbeaten 12 off 68 balls.
Maxwell, on his part, had little option but to take on the rampaging Afghan attack head on and smash their bowlers out of the park at regular intervals to keep the asking rate in check, while fighting extreme levels of physical discomfort simultaneously. In the end, he would not only guide his team home after refusing to give up despite the strain on his legs, he would even bring up a maiden ODI double-hundred by an Australia with the winning six.
Watching the match slip out of Afghanistan’s hands was tough for their fans to watch, and even more so for ex-cricketers, especially someone who has led the team for several years and could notice flaws in the team’s tactics during Maxwell’s assault.
During the conversation, Afghan revealed he was about to pick up his phone and call the manager, asking him to relay his tactical inputs to coach Jonathan Trott or captain Shahidi himself.
“The captain was a little low on experience. If we had a more senior member of the team leading the side, then maybe he would have taken a very different set of decisions. I was watching the game on television, and Australia needed around 90 runs to win and Maxwell was going about with his ‘crime’. I honestly wanted to pick up my phone and call the manager asking him to pass on my message to the captain or coach on trying a different set of tactics. Just give it a shot, maybe even get hit for a boundary or two. My advice would have helped bring about Maxwell’s dismissal.
“There were some former cricketers sitting with me in Kabul watching that game, and they advised me against doing anything that might cause a controversy. I was about to make the call, and I still regret not dialing the manager’s number in the end. I would have been ready to face any consequence. Maybe the call would have led to a very different outcome. Because when you are in the ground in the thick of the action, your mind doesn’t quite work the way it should and are not able to see things that those on the outside notice. And that’s all the more true if you’re not experienced.
“I’ve played international cricket for 18 years, and led the team for six to seven years. Have also led at the domestic level. So I have the experience of leading. I believe lack of experience did play a role in costing us that match. Tight contests such as these are won by a captain and his tactics,” Afghan, who played 114 ODIs and 75 T20Is besides six Tests, added.
Afghan added that someone as experienced, especially in Indian conditions, as Rashid should have taken up the responsibility of leading the side during a tournament as important as the World Cup.
“You need a lot of experience to lead in the 50-over format. I feel Rashid Khan should have led Afghanistan in the World Cup. Our performance would have been even better in that scenario. It’s the cricket board’s decision in the end, however, and I don’t really have a say in that. Rashid has a lot of international experience and also has played so many matches in India. In such a scenario, he should have willingly accepted this responsibility, or approached the board with this request,” Afghan concluded.