Martin Smith & Mazher Arshad
Martin Smith & Mazher Arshad
One of the most enduring images of this Cricket World Cup will be that of Afghanistan's Hamid Hassan, headband strapped around his thick black hair and paint smeared across his cheeks, completing an ungainly cartwheel in the middle of Dunedin's University Oval.
The feats of the Afghanistan team have provided the most heart-warming tale of this tournament so far, while Hassan’s unique celebration has added to a rich history of Associate nations at World Cups, highlighted by the catch of Bermuda's Dwayne Leverock in 2007 and Kevin O'Brien's century for Ireland against England four years ago.
Hassan's acrobatics, which came after he'd taken the wicket of Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sangakkara, was in keeping with the rapid progression of his nation's cricket side; out of the blue and certainly not to script.
Hassan celebrates the wicket of Kumar Sangakkara // Getty
Afghanistan didn’t even have a national cricket team until 2001 and they were in Division Five of the ICC World Cricket League as recently as 2008, effectively making them the 29th ranked team in the world.
Seven years later, the 'Blue Tigers' – made up of several players who learnt the game in refugee camps in neighbouring Pakistan – were celebrating their first ever World Cup win, a one-wicket triumph over Scotland.
Hassan, who has taken six wickets from three World Cup matches at an average of 23, is one of several Afghan players to have belied their team's 'minnow' tag in the pool matches.
Samiullah Shenwari's expertly paced innings of 96 was the foundation of his side's successful run chase against Scotland, while giant left-arm quick Shapoor Zadran has grabbed attention as much for the length of his run up as his seven wickets at 15.
But Hassan says the secret to his side's success is far less quantifiable than sheer ability.
"There's only one thing I'm always saying and that's unity," Hassan told cricket.com.au.
"There's a love between each other, we support each other (and) the most important thing is we have very good back-up from the Afghanistan people.
"From everywhere in the world, they're praying and they're sending their prayers.
Afghanistan fans celebrates in the city of Jalalabad // Getty
"We play with heart. Whatever is going on, whether we're winning or losing, we fight until the end of the last ball.
"That's why we're here at the World Cup.
"There've been so many amazing moments that have happened in the past 10 years and we never knew we would become an international team and qualify for the World Cup.
"It's been an amazing journey and for me there's been some unforgettable moments and right now I'm part of this World Cup with my team."
After defeats to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and victory over Scotland, on Wednesday the Afghans face arguably the toughest test of their short ODI career when they take on co-hosts Australia at the WACA Ground in Perth.
It will be Afghanistan's second official match against Australia – they lost by 66 runs in an one-off game in Sharjah in 2012 – and their first against them on Australian soil.
Not just any Australian soil; Hassan is excited at the prospect of testing himself on the traditional fast-bowler's haven of the WACA Ground, especially after he missed the 2012 clash due to one of two serious knee injuries that have punctuated his career.
If he’s seeking any direction on how to rip through an Australian batting line-up, he needs look no further than the man he regards as his cricketing hero.
Hassan celebrates his side's win over Scotland // Getty
"There are a lot of fast-bowlers I love to watch, but the one guy I was very inspired by was in the Ashes series in 2005 ... when I saw Andrew Flintoff," Hassan said.
"He played like a hero in that Ashes series.
"He bowled really well, bowled fast and quick, got 24 wickets and got some runs in batting. I wish I could bat like him but I'm not a good batsman.
"He inspired me a lot with the way he played, the way he bowled, the way he batted, his celebrations and everything. He was amazing."
While the match in Perth looks to be a mismatch on paper, the Australians will hard-pressed to outdo their opponents when it comes to passion for the game and their people.
And no one displays that passion more openly than Hassan, whose match-day attire features a tiny Afghanistan flag on each cheek and a headband featuring the red, green and black of his country.
Hassan was reluctant to divulge the genesis of his trademark look, but was willing to reveal the role it plays when he's representing his homeland.
"If I'm doing something wrong in a match, I watch myself on the big screen and when I touch my face, I get paint on my fingers," Hassan explains.
"And I say 'You're playing for your country, think about what you're doing here'.
Hassan celebrates a wicket against Bangladesh // Getty
"So then I concentrate because your country has given you that opportunity so you should give something back to your country.
"Then I start to concentrate and fight, fight and fight."
Despite an ODI batting average of 6.30, Hassan played with a straight bat when asked for a Glenn McGrath-like prediction of which Australian batsman he would target at the WACA this week.
But should Hassan knock over David Warner or Michael Clarke on Wednesday, we may see more of the acrobatics that had the cricket world smiling against Sri Lanka a week ago.
"I didn't know what I should do so I just went for it," Hassan said of his cartwheel after dismissing Sangakkara.
"I was just enjoying that wicket because everyone knows that Sangakkara is the number one batsman in the world.
"I feel very proud that I got him and also then (Mahela) Jayawardene later on.
"I was very excited, I didn't know what to do and it just happened. It was amazing."
The Afghans aren't done amazing the cricket world yet and should they find a second victory from their final three pool matches against Australia, New Zealand and England, Hassan won't be the only Afghani doing cartwheels.