posted on 2019-06-30 10:38:47
posted by Karthik Raj
Image Credit- Outlook India
Afghanistan's World Cup campaign started off poorly. 5 bad losses, plenty of off-field issues and cricket fans, in general, feared that this could get uglier for Afghanistan. However, a combination of favourable tracks and better performances meant that the team ran India, Bangladesh (To an extent) and Pakistan close in their last three matches. But, the team and skipper Gulbadin Naib might reflect upon these games and ponder over how they should have won at least one game. Out of all the defeats, it would be the Pakistan match that might hurt Gulbadin Naib the most, considering that he was the one that let the match slip right in front of him.
About 3 months ago, Gulbadin Naib was surprisingly announced as Afghanistan captain after long-time skipper Asghar Afghan was sacked in a controversial manner. Asghar Afghan's removal wasn't the most shocking thing in that saga as Naib, a player who wouldn't have demanded a spot in the starting 11 on merit was appointed as captain. Asghar Afghan's own brother Karim Janat was, in fact, a competitor for the all-rounder spot. So, it wasn't straightforward at all. Even more startling was the fact that Afghanistan's head coach Phil Simmons commented that he was unaware about this captaincy change. Anyway, one could argue that Naib was suddenly entrusted with such a huge responsibility and the benefit of the doubt should go to him. The feeling was that let him showcase his skills and ability to lead a team in the World Cup.
Through the first 5-6 games in the World Cup, Naib was on a path to prove everyone wrong. When Mohammad Shahzad was allegedly dropped despite being fit, when Afghanistan couldn't even put up some fight and showcase the passion that they were popularly known for, it was Naib who stood up for the team. When the team's star spinners were struggling, Naib took on the responsibility to bowl good spells. When the team's openers seemed totally out of depth at the international level, the same Naib promoted himself to open the inning so that the side could play an extra batsman. Naib played gritty knocks with the bat too. In the game against Bangladesh, Gulbadin Naib miscalculated his team's strength and chose to chase on a wicket that was deteriorating with every ball. Afghanistan predictably failed but one had the chance to excuse Naib saying that he was brave and trying to face new challenges in spite of his inexperience.
But all this seemingly went down the drain in the match against Pakistan as Naib took additional responsibility as captain to throw common sense and logic out of the window. The team fought, they scrambled and somehow reached the point where Pakistan needed 46 runs off 30 balls with just 4 wickets in hand. Mujeeb had one over, Rashid had two overs in the bank. Part-timer Samiullah Shinwari had done a commendable job till then and had two overs still to bowl. And the track at Leeds, Headingley was extending love to the spin bowlers. The options were obvious but the bodybuilder-turned cricketer wanted to flex his muscles and justify his credentials. At least that's how it seemed as skipper Gulbadin Naib was more worried in not shying away from the challenge as a skipper than doing what was needed at that point.
What followed that decision was a game-changing over, not for Afghanistan but for Pakistan. Imad Wasim who was struggling to pick the variations from Afghanistan's superb spinners feasted on some lacklustre bowling from Naib. The Afghan skipper bowled a full toss, bowled short as Wasim took 18 runs from the over and brought down the equation to 28 needed off 24 balls. The match was now in Pakistan's grip. Three decent overs followed but by the time the final over was to be bowled, Pakistan needed just 6. This time, Naib wanted to make a proper comeback but unfortunately for himself and Afghanistan, it was the worst possible decision for him to bowl the final over. Yes, most bowlers will concede 6 runs but the best possible chance was to get Shinwari, the spinner have a crack at this. Naib's adrenaline rush ensured that the chase was over in 4 deliveries. Even in that over, Naib had a golden opportunity to run out Imad Wasim but he only managed to crumble under pressure and fumble the ball.
With that heart-breaking loss, Afghanistan had lost yet another opportunity to win a match in this World Cup. In a few years time, world cricket fans will look at 2019 Cricket World Cup's points table and question the team's results. After all, no one will celebrate spirited performances after a while. Wins are the results that stand out after a period of time. As much as it should hurt the Afghanistan team, this should also be taken as a learning curve. If ever there was something to prove that bad decisions can even hurt the best of talents, Naib's decisions and Afghanistan's undoubted talent will be the best example. If Naib and Afghanistan learn from this chastening experience, that victory might be bigger than this loss against Pakistan.