Afghanistan eye a semifinal place in a rare match against Australia, who have cancelled several bilateral fixtures over the Taliban’s policies on women.
Published 7 Nov 2023
Pune, India – As Afghanistan trained and prepared for their World Cup campaign, their coach repeatedly hammered an idea into their collective consciousness: You are not in India to make up the numbers, you’re here to beat other teams, no matter their reputation.
Jonathan Trott’s mantra for his squad may seem simple but Afghanistan’s progress in the tournament, winning four matches after losing their first two games against Bangladesh and India, is as much a product of the players internalising that belief as it is a reflection of their cricketing skills.
Now, with victories over England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands ticked off, Afghanistan are in the hunt for a semifinal berth and, on Tuesday in Mumbai, face an Australian side with a confidence that would previously have seemed fanciful.
“Obviously, Australia will be favourites and Afghanistan, until they’ve been more consistent and won a lot more bilateral series, will always be underdogs and that’s fine,” Trott told Al Jazeera.
“I think the players actually prefer that but they quietly have a sort of inner steeliness about them recently. That’s exciting. They now have confidence, like, we’ve beaten England. We’ve beaten Pakistan. We’ve beaten Sri Lanka. They’ve won World Cups before. Why can’t we beat Australia who have won it the most times?”
But there is an underlying political conundrum surrounding Afghanistan’s match against Australia, whose governing body has cancelled bilateral fixtures between the men’s side twice in the past two years, citing the Taliban government’s policies on women.
A one-off Test to be staged in Hobart was postponed indefinitely in 2021, soon after the Taliban seized power, and earlier this year, Cricket Australia (CA) withdrew from a three-match ODI series scheduled to be played in the United Arab Emirates.
On both occasions, CA consulted with the Australian government before making the decision to withdraw.
CA also consulted several female Afghanistan cricketers who fled to Australia after the Taliban takeover before making the decision to withdraw. CA stress the situation is complex for those players, balancing pride in the men’s team’s achievements with their own hopes and ambitions.
While bilateral series do not have any bearing on qualification for world tournaments, World Cup matches have obvious consequences and Australia has not taken the same stance when playing Afghanistan in ICC tournaments.
The two sides met in Adelaide during last year’s T20 World Cup, where Australia scraped a narrow victory, and Tuesday’s match will be their fourth World Cup fixture. They have played just one bilateral match, in 2012, which Australia won by 66 runs.
“There is a distinction between playing bilateral series against Afghanistan which falls directly under CA control as compared to playing in a World Cup tournament which is an ICC event and subject to their regulations,” a CA spokesperson told Al Jazeera.
“CA made the decision not to proceed with the three match ODI series against Afghanistan in March following the announcement by the Taliban of further restrictions on women’s rights including education and employment opportunities and the access to parks and gymnasiums.
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