Three days after the mega showdown between India and Pakistan played out in Adelaide, a minor version of the South Asian spectacle took place in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) of Canberra. Afghanistan, making their Cricket World cup debut, took on Bangladesh at the 13000-capacity Manuka Oval.
Afghanistan fans in the stands yesterday. Pic/Kathleen Galligan
Afghanistan's awe inspiring cricket story is quite well known. For a country that has been through so much from inside and out for the better part of four decades, to have a team playing amongst the big boys in the flagship event of cricket, is a tremendous accomplishment they ought to be proud of. Seven years ago, Afghanistan were playing in the ICC World Cricket League Division Five and it has been a steep rise in their cricketing commitment and accomplishment to be playing in the ODI World Cup so soon afterwards.
The crowd of 10,900, mostly pro-Bangla, had a ball. The Afghanistan fans draped in their team T-shirts and flags, and traditional outfits enjoyed their day out even as their team let go of a position of advantage, and were put under the cosh by Bangladesh. In a seemingly impossible chase of 267, Afghanistan were reduced to 3/3 early and never really recovered from it. It ceased to be about Win-Loss and turned in to a celebration of Afghanistan's against-the-odds journey to even be playing in this world cup.
If the International Cricket Council (ICC) had had its way, Afghanistan wouldn't even have been here. It was announced soon after the successful 2011 CWC which featured 14 teams, ICC had determined in their infinite wisdom that it would be better to have a reduced number of teams in the 2015 CWC which meant no way in for the Associate cricket nations. After a sustained campaign by the fans and the media, ICC yielded to public pressure and reverted to the 2011 format for the 2015 CWC.
Ireland have thrashed West Indies in this world cup. Scotland came within a gasp of scoring a major upset over tournament favorites New Zealand. Afghanistan had Bangladesh in a position of bother until the class of Shakib Al Hasan salvaged his side. All these stories could not and would not have happened if ICC had stuck to their original decision in 2011.
Now, it has once again been announced that the CWC in 2019 will include only 10 teams. To deflect any public pressure, ICC have thrown the bone that some of the Associates will have a pathway to the CWC through a playoff competition including them and the two lowest ranked ICC full member nations. As magnanimous as this gesture of ICC may sound, it is a weasel option. It is an inexorable move towards shrinking the sport that ICC promotes as the "global game".
Afghanistan have five more matches in this tournament, to be on this world stage, to let the (not so) wise men at the ICC recognise that they would possibly be robbing them of another shot in four years, and their fans a chance in 2019 to celebrate their team, and the sport we all love so dearly.