North Sound (Antigua): Their late arrival in the Caribbean had forced the ICC to rework the fixtures of their group matches but Afghanistan, with their magnificent run to the semifinals of the U-19 World Cup, ensured the tweaking by the apex body was worth it, even if it meant rescheduling as many as four matches.
Accustomed to dealing with issues far removed from and bigger than cricket, the battle-hardened Afghanistan team will chase history on Tuesday, in a sport that has often been a soothing balm for the country’s many battered souls.
Having punched above their weight, they now face England in the Super League semifinals of the U-19 showpiece at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, an appropriate setting for those seeking inspiration for doing things in cricket which only the man after whom the venue is named could do in his heydays.
Afghanistan will create history if they are able to beat fancied England, for they have never been to the final of the U-19 World Cup.
If their entry into the tournament was not bereft of drama, thanks to visa-related issues, no less dramatic was their march to the last-four stage.
The odds were heavily stacked against them when they posted just 134 on board after Sri Lanka asked them to take first strike in their quarterfinal match but Afghanistan produced a superb performance with the ball to bundle out the island nation for 130 in 46 overs at Coolidge Cricket Ground in Antigua.
Before that, having obtained the necessary permission to travel to the West Indies, Afghanistan won all three matches in the group stage.
It is only the second time, the first being the 2018 edition in New Zealand, that Afghanistan have made it to the Super League semifinals of the U-19 World Cup.
However, England will undoubtedly be their biggest challenge.
England are widely known for their batting depth in white-ball cricket and Jacob Bethell is one name that might be creating problems for the Afghanistan bowlers.
The batting all-rounder from Warwickshire displayed his prowess in England’s quarterfinal win against South Africa at the same venue. He smashed 88 off 42 balls at a strike-rate of 209.52, the highest for any Englishman in an innings of at least 50 runs in the U-19 World Cup.
Bethell, who was born in Barbados and idolises Sir Garfield Sobers, has scored 201 runs at an average of 50.25 and a strike-rate of 112.92 and hit two 50s in four innings so far.
England will be hoping he continues that form against Afghanistan, though they also have others capable of contributing to the team’s cause.
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