Will Afghanistan script a memorable upset at 2015 World Cup?


S
yed Zafar Mehdi

The biggest and the most extravagant cricketing carnival, starting February 14, is set to enthrall billions of cricket buffs across the globe. For first-timers Afghanistan, it will be a tryst with history. As under-dogs, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

This will be Afghanistan’s maiden appearance in a World Cup event. Their remarkable rise, despite limited resources and enormous hardships, has earned them tremendous praise and admiration from cricket fans across the world.

Cricket has brought joy to millions of war-weary people in this country who have seen nothing but misery and despondency. It has given them something to cheer about.

The first goal for Afghanistan is to progress from the group stage to the ‘super eight’. It is undeniably a challenging mission but not an impossible one. To make it happen, they have to upset one of the giants in their group. As cricket pundits will agree, they have the firepower to be giant-killers.

It will not be surprising if Afghanistan scripts a memorable upset during the course of the tournament. The team is clubbed with hosts Australia and New Zealand along with England and Sri Lanka in Pool A. Defeating any of these teams looks like a Herculean task.

However, they have a realistic chance against Scotland and Bangladesh, the other two less-threatening teams in Pool A. Afghanistan has an impressive record against Scotland and they defeated Bangladesh in the Asia Cup last year. Overcoming the challenge from these two teams will be the Plan A for Afghanistan.

The playing conditions in Australia and New Zealand will test the skill and temperament of Afghan players. They are accustomed to slow wickets in the United Arab Emirates, where they play most of their matches. Playing on fast and bouncy pitches in Australia and New Zealand will be a new experience for many of them.

Afghanistan squadis a perfect blend of youth and experience. While skipper Mohammad Nabi and Nawroz Mangal have loads of experience with the bat, the young guns like Usman Ghani and Javed Ahmedi are talented and hungry for runs.

The bowling attack, spearheaded by Shapoor Zadran and Hamid Hassan, can knock the daylights out of batsmen. They have pace, bounce, swing and aggression of fast bowlers.

With barely a week left for the World Cup, the thrill and excitement among cricket fans in this country is palpable. As coach Andy Moles said, winning the World Cup is not their goal. Scripting an upset win against any of the major teams is a goal.

Here is a look at the biggest upsets scripted in the history of ICC World Cup:

World Cup 2011: England thrashed by Ireland
England suffered shocking defeat against Ireland in the group stage of World Cup 2011. England posted a mammoth total of 327 runs on the board. Nobody gave Ireland any chance to win the match, especially after first five wickets fell cheaply.

Kevin O’Brien, the burly middle-order batsman, was not in a mood to surrender tamely. He smashed English bowlers all over the park in his blistering knock of 113 off 63 balls to guide his side home.

World Cup 2007: India beaten by Bangladesh 
India, which went into the tournament as one of the favorites, was shown exit door by an underdog team rather unceremoniously. Led by Rahul Dravid, the team suffered a shocking loss against Bangladesh.

Riding on Abdur Razzak’s 5 for 38, Bangladesh bundled out India for the paltry score of 191 runs. It was not a difficult chase even for a weak team like Bangladesh. They clinched the match by five wickets, scripting one of the greatest World Cup upsets.

World Cup 1999: India routed by Zimbabwe
After conceding the first match against South Africa, Indian team shocked millions of their fans by losing to Zimbabwe. Batting first, Zimbabwe posted a competitive total of 252 runs, thanks to important cameos by supremely-talented Flower brothers.

The power-packed Indian batting line-up looked set to chase the target. But, the monumental middle-order collapse orchestrated by Heath Streak(3/36) and Henry Olonga(3/22) came as a rude shock to both pundits and bookies.

World Cup 1996: West Indies thrashed by Kenya
This has to be the greatest World Cup upset. Kenya, a team few people had heard of, stunned two-time World Cup champions West Indies in the group stage.

Batting first, Kenya managed only 166 runs against the famed bowling attack of West Indies. Led by Richie Richardson, the team had the likes of Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. But, it was not their day.

Kenyan bowlers made mincemeat of the formidable West Indies batting line-up. Rajab Ali(3/17) and Maurice Odumbe(3/15) sent them packing for the shambolic score of 93 runs.

World Cup 1983: India beat West Indies to lift the title
Before the tournament, no one believed India can beat West Indies, which comprised the likes of Clive Lloyd, Desmond Haynes, Vivian Richards and Gordon Greenidge. Having already won the title two times, West Indies was the top favorite and the only favorite.

After defeating England in the semifinal, India faced West Indies in the final. Clive Lloyd’s team was all set to make it three in a row.

Asked to bat first, India managed only 183 runs against the terrifying bowling attack of West Indies. The chase was modest by Caribbean standards. They had the biggest names in their formidable batting line-up.

However, the Indian side led by mercurial all-rounder Kapil Dev broke the juggernaut. The team was bundled out for 140 runs, handing India 43 run win. Indian cricket was reborn that day.

(First published in Afghan Zariza)

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About Zafar Mehdi
Maverick journalist, irreverent rebel, travel freak, cricket junkie, reluctant fundamentalist, student of life, dreamer, believer.

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