Despite the perceived and supposed differences in the Australian and Afghani cricket teams, our game on Saturday still had some interesting aspects to it.
I am no great follower of our military operations, but I know we have about 1500 troops in Afghanistan at present. I am not aware of what we as Australians are thought of by the Afghani’s - and was interested to see the reception we got from them on Saturday at the ground.
I noticed one thing I could identify with - they watched and were very aware of what Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey and Mitch Johnson did. Whilst we finished off our fielding training the other night the Afghanistan team, preparing to train themselves, watched on in...I don’t know...awe? admiration? fascination? Their eyes never leaving our most senior members.
The Australian team, for so long a powerhouse in the ODI form of the game are trying to regain the consistency and depth of performance that earned that reputation. For Afghanistan there was no doubt that reputation still held sway.
If this game had been played in Australia I believe it would have been very one-sided, however we are in unfamiliar conditions here in Dubai. This is territory that suits the Afghanistan team, conditions that they know and trust. We played in oppressive heat (the game was the first ODI to be played over two days, to attempt to escape the heat, 6pm till 1.45am the following morning!). We played on a rolled mud wicket completely devoid of grass that can sometimes spin prodigiously, provide varying levels of bounce. We were sweating so much we found it, the bowlers in particular, very hard to hold the ball.
For those unaware Afghanistan have had a national team since 2001 - they were still in world cricket's division five until 2008. There rise to gain ICC One Day International status has been a rapid and intriguing one. I highly recommend the documentary Out of the Ashes - The rise of the Afghan cricket team for both its amazing story and also for its, perhaps unintended humour.
From very early it was clear that the Afghanistan team is a very proud one. Shapoor Zadran’s borderline ‘in your face’ reaction to dismissing David Warner clearly showed it. Boundaries from Wade and Clarke where greeted with hard stares. The fielding, though inconsistent and at times shoddy, also showed periods of great energy and flair.
Their batting, like many of the subcontinent teams was a mixture of periods of little intent followed by overs of dashing stroke play.
Karim Sadiq provided my highlight of the entire match (and possibly the year) following a crashing blow to his helmet from Mitchell Starc. Karim rose, dazed and wide eyed, from the ground and shook hands with all in his near vicinity, thrilled to still be alive.
His dismissal, bowled after two balls after been hit again in the head by Starc, saw Karim leaving the ground kissing his helmet graciously. Glenn Maxwell asked me was he retiring - I replied I thought it was more the fact that the helmet he was so gratefully kissing had saved his life not once but twice in the past 5 minutes. A terrific, and very true reaction!
Despite early wickets the Afghani’s consolidated and fought the game out hard. I believe, given their impressive rise in a short period of time, they have the capacity to cause a few headaches against higher ranked opponents in the coming years. T20 in particular is a format that looks to suit their style of play.
Sport and cricket which so often draw on the descriptions of war (battles, bravery, heroes and villains) should be buoyed by the encounter. The game was prepared for and and played with great respect for one another and both sides looking each other with a great deal of interest. I hope that is how the efforts and relationships our troops are building in Afghanistan are being viewed by all they affect as well.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia