Afghanistan need to thrash the Proteas to make the World Cup semifinals, and they are hopeful
For South Africa, Friday’s clash is a dead rubber, while Afghanistan are ready to come out swinging to secure an unlikely semifinal spot.
South Africa face Afghanistan in both sides’ final round-robin match of the Cricket World Cup. They will play at the 132,000-capacity Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad — the same venue where the final of the quadrennial tournament will take place.
The Proteas have already qualified for the semifinal and will face Australia on 16 November at Eden Gardens in Kolkata — where South Africa were put to the sword by 243 runs against India on Sunday.
Outside of practice for the semifinal, the match is a dead rubber for South Africa, but late-order hitter David Miller said he sees the match as an opportunity to build momentum.
“It’s just continuing what we’ve really done in this World Cup and just nailing down on areas that we want to improve on from the previous game,” he said at the pre-match press conference on Thursday.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase what we can do and get some momentum into that semi.”
Mathematically, Afghanistan are still in the running for a semifinal spot, but they need to thrash South Africa by a significant margin to get their net-run rate above New Zealand’s — who currently occupy fourth place on the table.
“They’ve been really, really good to watch,” Miller said about Friday’s opponents. “They’re a team that’s certainly growing in confidence. They’ve shown that they can compete. This World Cup, they’ve done really, really well, beaten some big teams.”
Afghanistan have won four of their eight matches so far, beating England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Netherlands.
“It’s something that we’re very aware of at World Cups, that there’s no easy game in the game of cricket,” Miller explained about the challenge Afghanistan pose.
“It’s just to make sure that we’re really well prepared with whatever game we’re playing and the team we’re playing.
“It’s been good to watch the Afghanistan group going the way that they have with the spinners that they’ve got, the batters upfront … they’ve done really well.
“Their opening stands have been really good. And then contributions throughout the innings are from the other batters.
“They’re a really strong team, and hence, they have a chance to make the semifinals. It’s good to see.
“That’s the joys of the World Cup. You see different teams doing well, people that don’t necessarily rate a certain team exceeding in a certain phase of the World Cup. It’s great to see good cricket.”
Picking up the pieces
Afghanistan came exceptionally close to only needing a close game against South Africa to qualify for the semifinals. In their previous match, after posting 291, the Afghans had Australia 91 for seven before losing the match.
It took a superhuman effort from Glenn Maxwell, who struck a superb double century, to overcome Afghanistan.
Afghanistan skipper Hashmatullah Shahidi said his team had struggled but were forced to come to terms with the loss.
“It was not easy as a team for all of us. The way it happened with the team, with us, was not easy,” he said.
“But still, we are in the World Cup, and we have one important match tomorrow of this World Cup. And as a team, we discussed it yesterday that we have to now move forward and not think too much about what happened.
“Because if you think about it, as a team, your team’s morale will go down with that. As I said that we will learn from it and now it’s a part of history, it’s gone.
“We have to move forward and think about tomorrow’s game and we will try as a team to come back stronger and win it from there.”
Afghanistan have exceeded expectations in the tournament, making full use of conditions with their trio of spin bowlers.
“As a team we feel proud, we are happy with what we did in this World Cup,” Shahidi said.
“But as a captain, I wanted and I expected more. We should have done better. Especially in the last game, if we beat Australia that would have been a good achievement for us.
“But now, still we have one game and if we finish that well we still have a chance for a semifinal. So, we are hopeful that anything can happen. We are looking forward, and still with what happened we are feeling proud as a team and as a nation.” DM