Afghanistan's journey to top-level cricket is inspirational.
Afghanistan’s journey to top-level cricket is inspirational.

On Thursday, Afghanistan climbed their next step in hope of ultimately attaining Test cricket status, by clinching a thriller in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 against Scotland. Emotions ran high in both sides during the match and the world was taken by storm but it remains unlikely that ICC will even give them a second thought. Rishad D’Souza looks into some of the special moments the associates have delivered during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. SCORECARD: Afghanistan vs Scotland in ICC Cricket World Cup 2015

Circa 2001 Afghanistan was viewed as a country ravaged by intense war. The only things associated with the country were images of brutal war, heartless bomb blasts; a land deprived of fun and joy. But amid all the chaos and disarray, there was a budding generation of youngsters taking relief in cricket, learning the art on muddy streets in their refugee camps in a foreign land. READ: Afghanistan fast-bowler Hamid Hassan features in Wall Street Journal after somersault antics

They took the game back to their war ravaged homeland. More people started taking solace in the sport of cricket. Soon cricket became the focal point of constructive social meetings for youth. Cricket was no longer just sport, but a way of tearing away from the difficulties that burdened them day in and day out. READ: Afghanistan register miracle 1-wicket win against Scotland in World Cup

Fourteen years later, faster than anyone expected, Afghanistan made way into the pinnacle of cricketing events. The journey was spectacular, the passion unparalleled. They came into the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 to prove they belonged and not that they were simply pushovers.

In their first ever ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 match against Bangladesh, they were given a 105-run beating. Losing by a big margin to a team not very highly ranked, gave people the impression that Afghanistan were not yet ready for the World Cup. But in their next match against Sri Lanka they gave a glimpse of just what could be expected out of them. Shenwari insists he did his job after Afghanistan register 1-wicket win over Scotland

They held their well-established Asian cousins to a four-wicket win, with only 10 balls to spare. Had it not been for Thisara Perera’s bludgeoning innings towards the end, Afghanistan would have even sealed that as their first World Cup win. They did lose the match, but they won hearts. In the next match against Scotland, they sealed a tense clash to ensure they won more than just hearts.

The Afghanistan-Scotland clash resulted in plenty of heart-touching moments. At seven for 97, in chase of 211, everyone gave up hope but the Afghanistanis kept their belief. Samiullah Shenwari kept the scoreboard ticking and played beautifully and soon it looked like he would take his team home. But when he got out with Afghanistan just 19 runs away from victory, with just one wicket in hand, Afghanistan supporters were heart-broken. Shenwari sat in the dug-out so dejected, he didn’t even take out his helmet.

But the final two batsmen took the mantle and overcame anxious moments, and when Shapoor Zadran hit that third ball of the final over to the boundary to clinch victory, Afghanistan emerged an inter-mingling of emotions – joy, disbelief and a little more heartbreak too. After all the Scots were brilliant too, a win for them would’ve possibly meant a whole deal more. They have been in two World Cups prior to this and yet remain to register a win. After coming so tantalizingly close, it was painful to see Scotland recline into dejection. READ: Ireland’s fate could dictate how “minnows” will be treated after ICC Cricket World Cup 2015

There was joy, there was pain and all in all there were plenty of heart-touching moments. But did the International Cricket Council (ICC) take note or have they been too blinded by the glare on money to even feel such pure emotions? Dave Richardson cited lack of competitiveness as a reason to reduce the next World Cup to a 10-teamaffair, which will effectively rule out most associates.

But haven’t the associates delivered better matches of cricket? A day prior to the Afghanistan-Scotland nail-biter, Ireland and UAE were involved in a battle of as much intensity where Ireland finally prevailed by two wickets and four balls to spare.

Some of the more anticipated clashes with the bigger names like the one between India and Pakistan or Australia versus England or New Zealand versus England and many others were absolute duds in terms of competitiveness. All the big clashes were one-sided affairs where one team were rendered absolutely incompetent.

The ICC must look beyond money, because cricket is a game with a soul. It is fantastic if the finances come in, but to shun the associates from the mega-event with only the short-sighted greed of extra dollars swirling in mind is against the very foundation of cricket.

(Rishad D’Souza, a reporter with CricketCountry, gave up hopes of playing Test cricket after a poor gully-cricket career. He now reports on the sport. You can follow @RishadDsouza on Twitter)

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