Afghanistan are just two games away from pulling off an improbable fairytale at the T20 World Cup… but serious questions must be asked over their behaviour in reaching the semi-finals

  • Afghanistan have qualified for the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup
  • It is the first time ever they have reached this stage of a World Cup 
  • But their behaviour against Bangladesh on Monday night must be questioned 

Afghanistan take on South Africa in the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup in Trinidad on Wednesday night knowing they are two games away from one of sport’s most improbable fairytales – but facing serious questions about their behaviour during Monday night’s nerve-shredding win over Bangladesh.

Needing victory to qualify and knock out Australia in the process, the Afghans had crept ahead of Bangladesh on DLS when their coach, the former England batsman Jonathan Trott, shouted at his players from the sidelines to ‘slow it down’ as rain began to fall in St Vincent.

All-rounder Gulbadin Naib, stationary at slip, collapsed to the ground clutching his left thigh, as if he’d been shot by a sniper. He was helped from the field with supposed cramp, before rain stopped play moments later, with Bangladesh 81 for seven after 11.4 overs in pursuit of 116, and two runs behind Afghanistan on the rain charts.

Once played resumed, there was more drama. Bangladesh opener Litton Das dragged his side level on DRS with two overs to go, only for Afghan quick Naveen-ul-Haq to take the last two wickets in two balls, sealing a momentous eight-run victory for a team who had not won a game at the previous T20 World Cup in Australia.

By now back on the field, Gulbadin led the celebratory charge as the players – many of them in tears – hurtled towards the dugout.

Afghanistan reached the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup by beating Bangladesh on Monday night

Afghanistan all-rounder Gulbadin Naib went down clutching his hamstring in the latter stages of the match, but was seen sprinting when Afghanistan won a few minutes later

Afghanistan all-rounder Gulbadin Naib went down clutching his hamstring in the latter stages of the match, but was seen sprinting when Afghanistan won a few minutes later

He appeared to be following orders from Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott (pictured) to slow the game down as rain was falling with Afghanistan ahead in the game

He appeared to be following orders from Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott (pictured) to slow the game down as rain was falling with Afghanistan ahead in the game

‘He had some cramp,’ said Afghanistan captain Rashid Khan, who hit three crucial sixes and took four wickets. ‘I don’t know what happened to him and I don’t know what’s going on in social media, but that doesn’t matter. We didn’t lose any overs, the rain came and we just went off – it didn’t bring a massive difference in the game.’

Despite the shenanigans, Afghanistan’s progress here, which has included wins over New Zealand and Australia, has lifted the tournament, with the irrepressible Rashid describing it as ‘a dream for us’.

It is only 16 years since Afghanistan were squeaking past Jersey in the Division 5 final of the ICC’s World Cricket League, a game in which Mohammad Nabi – now one of their leading all-rounders – took part. Their rise from the refugee camps of Pakistan, where many of that 2008 team learned the game, to a World Cup semi-final, is astonishing.

And their players have lit up the Caribbean. Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran have been the tournament’s most impressive opening partnership, while left-arm quick Fazalhaq Farooqi is the leading wicket-taker, with 16. Rashid and Naveen are also in the top five.

Many critics believe the Afghan men should not be allowed to take part in international cricket while the ruling Taliban government suppress women back home. But the ICC have decided to stay out of Afghanistan’s internal politics, and there was no doubting Rashid’s sincerity as he rejoiced in his country’s greatest sporting triumph. ‘We wanted to make the people back home happy,’ he said.

Victory over South Africa would take that to another level.

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