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The warm embrace of an Afghan win.

by Gaurav Sethi

Imagine years from now if India makes the FIFA World Cup and wins a match. Yeah, that to the power of ten... no, who am I kidding, I don't know what Afghanistan must be feeling right now. Meet Nawroz Mangal who now opens the batting for Afghanistan - like his mates, he picked up cricket in the refugee camps of Pakistan. When Taj Malik (Afghanistan coach) spotted the talented Mangal, he straight away wanted to take him under his wing. But Father Mangal had other ideas, and his son making a living from cricket wasn't one of them. It took some cajoling for Coach Malik to convince Father Mangal to allow the boy to seriously play cricket. Much like in the Bollywood movie, Iqbal, the coach even stayed overnight to push the cause of cricket. Nawroz Mangal went on to captain Afghanistan. Food for cricket thought?

There are more than a few Afghan eateries in Delhi, imagine watching this game there - in Lajpat Nagar Central Market, under that sprawling chandelier where the TV usually blares Bollywood at an unforgiving pitch. How loud must the TV have been - how tight was the huddle - did they fire guns after the victory? Or is that something reserved for farmhouses in Delhi?
My other Afghan sightings are in the village opposite the Saket Malls or in the adjoining hospitals. They're all refugees in one of the world's biggest refugee cities. I feel compelled to sit and chat with an Afghan about cricket, about today's match. Feel some of their happiness, make it mine. Because right now, I want to feel even happier for Afghanistan. Just like our Prime Minister.

You may not watch all 100 overs but keep the TV on, the scorecard ticking. Even if you can't commit to seven hours, be there for the last 15-20 minutes - for the winning runs, for the losing wicket, even more so if two Associates are playing - such as Afghanistan vs. Scotland, with neither team having ever won a World Cup match.
I walked past the TV with Afghanistan at 70-something for two, walked past again, 97/7. I could have given up on them right there and then. But that is precisely the moment when both Samiullah Shenwari and I committed to sit in for the long, long haul. By far the best decision I've made all World Cup. Shenwari was as deadpan as Dhoni: leaving ball after ball, blocking ball after ball, relishing in the monotony of not committing to anything; knowing that romantic last over finish was more than 20 overs away.
His previous highest score was 82*. "He'd have to better that if Afghanistan want to get across the line" - someone in commentary, adding to the monotony. His first ODI was also against Scotland, in the ICC World Cup Qualifiers, 2009. That day he made 52(57), batting at seven. Afghanistan won that game by a country mile. His batting average against Scotland, 58, quite Dhoniesque.
Here was a player batting in the knowledge that if he waits it out long enough, there will be that one over when he can play and maybe even hit the jackpot. That over came. It was the 47th of the innings. It was as if Ross Taylor had possessed Samiullah Shenwari - six over cow corner, six over mid wicket, six over square leg, six over - NO! OUT. Falling four shy of a maiden ODI hundred only added to the tragic romance that is Afghanistan cricket, where nothing has ever come easy. Agonyistan for the next 16 deliveries with bad calls, near run outs and two boundaries, the second four sealed the game and our haemorrhaging hearts.
"First of all I will say I did my job, and my job was just staying at the wicket till late. And some of the other players didn't take responsibility, that's why they're out." - Samiullah Shenwari, February 26, 2015, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Even in the post match, Shenwari was as deadpan as Dhoni.

First published in daily O

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