Afghanistan cricketer Shapoor Zadran (R) celebrates with his teammates after he dismissed Gautam Gambhir during the ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup match between India and Afghanistan at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. AFP/Lakruwan Wanniarachchi
“They were very quiet on the field, no one was talking. We could make out they were tense,” said Afghanistan skipper Nawroz Mangal, proud of his team after they fought against the fancied India in their opening World T20 game on Wednesday.
Afghanistan rattled India with fearless cricket, and but for silly mistakes in the field they could have run them really close. Never mind the 23-run margin of defeat, they won over everyone with their brand of cricket. The captain and his teammates were much sought after by Afghan fans when they walked into the hotel lobby on Thursday morning. As he posed for photographs, Mangal spoke to HT, reliving the excitement of the match.
Fans turn rivals
“To be honest, most of our boys are their (Indian players) fans but we didn't play like fans. We had them under pressure, and had we held our catches, we could have run them close. They played professionally and we played with passion. That was the difference in the end,” said Mangal.
Nothing symbolised the free spirit they bring to the table more than 'keeper Shahzad Mohammad uncorking the 'helicopter shot' against Zaheer Khan. Even MS Dhoni, who made the shot famous, couldn't help smiling. “He is an unabashed admirer of Dhoni and also likes to be called 'MS'. He was warned by coach Kabir Khan to not to play that shot before reaching 60. To be fair to him, the ball was there to be hit,” said an amused Mangal. So what was the Indian skipper's response? “I don't know if he said anything to Shahzad later but from the non-striker's end, I could see him break into a smile. After the game, he told me we played well and wished us luck for the next game. He told us even Irfan Pathan's mother speaks Pashto.”
These are the moments they live for. “We've been receiving calls continuously from people back home, saying how proud they are. I am telling them, ‘boss, we have lost the match. They say: ‘It’s a victory, India has been playing cricket for more than 100 years while we have just started and almost beat them.”
A match against India provides Afghan players their moment under the sun, but it's a tough life. “We get paid a salary of 800 to 1000 dollars per month from the ICC and our Board, and it also started last year. Life is a struggle for our players because they have to worry about running their homes, their own personal needs etc. We have brought the team so far, now it is up to big cricket countries like India to support our cricket and help us reach the next level.”