Ben Stokes slaughtered his way to a double hundred, Hashim Amla mustered all his skills and a bit of luck to bat for 11 hours on the way to his double, Temba Bavuma punched his way onto all the history books with a monumental ton and Martin Guptill routinely annihilated the Lankans. In between all this, Mohammad Shahzad leaped with joy and Hamilton Masakadza very calmly raised his bat. The latter tons were of no less significance.
The game of cricket just needs some kind of a handle to hit any sort of a ball, which pitches on any form of a surface. Yet, this simple game – though it gets complicated when Duckworth and Lewis enter – isn’t being played on a larger scale i.e. worldwide (add to that the scrapping of smaller teams for the next world cup). But the Afghanistan - Zimbabwe bilateral series is a welcome sign.
When one team was bundled out for 131 and the other ended up scoring only 82 while chasing, not many would have been optimistic. But with time, normalcy was restored. Centuries were scored, bigger targets were chased, and runs were put on the board. Not that everything in this series was close to ideal, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. The more Afghanistan and Zimbabwe play – not necessarily just against each other – the more they evolve.
To those who missed the series, citing either lack of competitiveness or quality of cricket as the reason, let me affirm that the cricket was as enjoyable as if it was being played anywhere else. If we have it in us to watch an ailing West Indies play something resembling cricket, then why not have the same love and passion in following a new side blossom and another fight to regain its lost glory? If It’s always a pleasure to watch a new kid bat then how is it not a pleasure to watch a new team embrace the game that we have loved and studied so much over the years? I have always loved it when someone is learning to speak my language. Haven’t you? The same goes for Afghanistan, the same goes for Zimbabwe.
To those who aren’t aware of what transpired at Sharjah over the last couple of weeks, I will try to gather a few moments that made the cricket worthy to watch.
If you aren’t reminded of Virender Sehwag when you watch Mohammad Shahzad bat, then you haven’t watched Sehwag bat. Shahzad batted with such freedom and joy, which I last saw only in Sehwag. Mohammad Nabi, arguably the most solid looking Afghan batsman, was moved up and down the order so many times that I wondered what Ian Chappell – who was very critical of Steve Smith moving down the order – would have said of it. Every time Dawlat Zadran bowled a yorker, one couldn’t help but see Waqar Younis in it. He hit the helmet, he crushed the stumps. When it mattered most, Gulbadin Naib swung the willow and hit the leather to all corners of Sharjah with as much power as a Russell or a Pollard or a Faulkner. Add to this the entry of a 17 year old leg spinner, Rashid Khan.
For Zimbabwe, Peter Moore batted with the consistency that was always expected of the talented Sibanda. Moore hit some sixes as big as any you could see in any T20 leagues. Masakadza milked singles when needed and slapped the short ones when demanded. Cremer showcased amazing control with his leg spinners and his googlies were as good as Imran Tahir’s. Madziva and Jongwe bowled with as much purpose and energy as Morkel or Broad.
The Afghan crowd cheered the home side and backed them throughout. There was noise, there were drums and there was music. There were sad faces when a wicket was lost and there was jubilation when runs were scored. There were many Afghan flags and a few Zimbabwe flags. There was a game being played. There wasn’t a de Villiers or an Amla or a Stokes or a Broad, but there was a Shahzad, a Masakadza, a Dawlat, a Cremer and a Naib. They all played fine cricket!
Cricket needs more such bilateral series; needs to involve the evolving sides more. Only then the game will grow. Afghanistan shuffled their batting order with each game, but one day they will settle. Zimbabwe struggled in the death overs, but at least they were searching for the yorkers and one day they will find them, if encouraged and enabled to grow.
I watched Inzamam in the dressing room after a long time – that sombre yet reflective visage and I watched a six being hit off a hit wicket for the first time. I watched Shahzad sit and smile in the dressing room even when the game was tightly balanced – just like Sehwag in his playing days. And I watched a victory celebration in rehearsal too.
All this in an Afghanistan-Zimbabwe series.