In the second series of Stranger Things, Dustin hears a noise in a bin. Ignoring the spooky music and his own fear, he goes and opens it.
Next thing we see is Dustin depositing a small obese newt thing into the tank he normally keeps his tortoise in. He feeds it a 3 Musketeers bar, making the wildly irresponsible assumption that this is an appropriate food for a creature he’s never seen before in his life.
(According to Wikipedia, a 3 Musketeers bar is essentially a Milky Way without any caramel. It got its name because it originally came in three pieces, each with a different flavour, only for rising costs to result in strawberry and vanilla being phased out. Oddly they didn’t rename it a 1 Musketeer bar, but they absolutely should have done.)
Because of the 3 Musketeers bar, Dustin calls the creature D’Artagnan, which is pretty smart for a kid. Then, because he’s an American, he shortens it to Dart, which isn’t particularly smart, but is perfectly understandable because names always end up as one syllable eventually and you might as well just accept that.
Dustin keeps Dart. Dart grows. After about a day, he pops a pair of rear legs out – like this is the kind of you can just do on a whim.
Another day and he’s the size of a small dog and his head looks like this.
Next thing you know he’s the size of a person and he’s killing soldiers.
Turns out Dart’s a Demogorgon and honestly you don’t need to have a PhD in demonology to know that that’s a terrifying thing.
What’s interesting here is the rate of development. Things rarely progress that rapidly in real life, but one exception is the Afghanistan cricket team.
Afghanistan went out of the Asia Cup yesterday after a tied game against India. If past history is anything to go by, India will be largely unaffected by the experience while Afghanistan will be somewhere around twice as good next time they take the field.
Back in 2009 and 2010, Mohammad Nabi’s first few one-day internationals saw him make fifties against Scotland and Canada. (Afghanistan actually lost the Canada match.)
A year before that, Afghanistan had been scraping a win against Jersey in ICC World Cricket League Division Five. The target was 81 and they only made it with eight wickets down.
Nabi was out for two in that match, but yesterday he made another fifty. Against India. In a tied game.
Things have moved on.
Nabi was outscored by Mohammad Shahzad, who was out for 124 when the score was somewhat jarringly 180-6. Shahzad made a duck in that 2010 Canada defeat.
Afghanistan are a team who have at no point drawn any firm conclusions about how good they could be. At each step on their journey they’ve inevitably come up against a team that’s better than them and rather than take this as some sort of reality check, they’ve basically just resolved to instantly become better and then somehow achieved that.
Five of the side that beat Jersey have played for the national side in the last 12 months. They are basically the same bunch of guys.
One day you’re a little flappy newt in a fish tank, next day you’re a Demogorgon.
It strikes us that it could do with an update because Afghanistan are a Test team now. This is a highly astonishing state of affairs.
If you’d asked us 15 years ago how likely it was that Afghanistan would become a Test team by 2018, here is a list of things that we would have rated as being more likely.
They’re not an especially good Test team going by the scorecard for their inaugural Test, but then Afghanistan’s rate of improvement is so steep that you wouldn’t bet against them were this a five match series.
It isn’t of course, but they’ll play more Tests and at some point they’ll win. We know this because Afghanistan’s superpower is that losing games gives them strength.
For now, it’s enough that they’re playing at all. As Afghanistan’s then minister of finance, Dr Omar Zakhilwal, said back in 2016 ahead of their first one-day international: “There is nothing that can touch cricket in popularity or as a force for good in Afghanistan. There is absolutely nothing else that mobilises our society in the same way.”
With West Indies needing 10 to win off four balls, Carlos Brathwaite whopped one high into the legside outfield. Najibullah Zadran sprinted, dived, took the catch, broke his neck or something when landing, but never let go of the ball.
Of course he didn’t let go. Why would he let go? His team-mates seemed largely unconcerned about his wellbeing because the main thing – the catching of the ball – had gone okay. They knew Zadran would be happy when he regained consciousness because Afghanistan were a sizeable step closer to beating one of the top sides in the World T20. That was the main thing. They all understood that compared to that a broken neck or a snapped arm or a lost knee was trivial.
Afghanistan are pretty talented – some of the spin bowling, in particular – but at heart there’s a lot to be said for simply enjoying the game of cricket and just really, really wanting to win.
If Afghanistan have a superpower, it’s that losing matches appears to give them strength. Bigger teams get downhearted when beaten. Afghanistan are still on the rise, so they sort of expect to lose and shrug it off in an instant, but then at the same time assume the defeat will make them better come their next match. At that point, they give it everything.
They look casual and the physiques of some of the players have that distinctive part-time cricketer look often seen in players from the less-established nations, but their commitment to their cause is at a level you can only attain when you’re grasping for every advantage you can get.
At one point, Mohammad Shahzad and one of his team-mates celebrated a wicket with some sort of airborne arse-bump. At another point, he threw down the stumps as if they’d assaulted his daughter.
Afghanistan really, really want it and they really, really enjoy it. They’re really, really fun to watch.
After the match, Mohammad Nabi said: “I think so we have had enough of winning the hearts of cricket fans so this time we won the match.”
England appear to have sold you a dummy. Just when you thought they might be transforming into some sort of competent modern T20 side, they conspire to lose three wickets in an over against Afghanistan. Masterful stuff.
The bowler was Mohammad Nabi, one of our ten World Cup players to watch. Different World Cup, but come on, we do this for free you know. If we came up with ten players for each and every World Cup, we wouldn’t have time to drink coffee and play Civilization.
Next time around, we’re going to play that game as the Afghanistan civilisation. Mohammad Nabi will be their leader. We will seek out the English and pillage their tile improvements. That is what is happening today.
Regardless of how they’re performing, it’s worth taking a moment to ponder that anew. Afghanistan are playing cricket. Afghanistan.
And indeed cricket. The sport hasn’t exactly gone viral. Most of the time it seems hell-bent on playing out behind some sort of paywall, yet somehow Afghanistan has barged its way into the private party and is busying itself having a fine old time. Perhaps it’s the only country to have built up the sheer endurance needed to jump through the ICC’s endless line of hoops.
There is of course no optimal time to take to cricket. The sport became established at a time in British history when loads of toffs were dicking about playing all sorts of different games because they had sod all better to do. Afghanistan came to the game much more recently. They paused, took a look around, thought: “Well, everything seems to be going pretty much swimmingly here now. Seems about the right time to take up the gentlemen’s game of cricket.”
Or not. In actual fact, it’s previously been claimed that cricket might be a means of helping Afghanistan rebuild society.
For a bit more background about cricket in Afghanistan, you could do a lot worse than watching Out of the Ashes. We’re going to watch it again ourself at some point in the next few days.
The ICC are calling this ‘the group stage’ of the World T20. Everyone else is correctly referring to it as the qualifiers.
Afghanistan have qualified.
Despite the best efforts of the organisers, someone had to.
Afghanistan did of course have the good fortune to be in Group B. It’s not that it’s an easier group; it’s that Group B matches are actually being played. The teams in that group are playing in Nagpur, where it isn’t raining. Group A matches are failing to take place in Dharamsala where it’s been slatting it down.
Due to the rain, there’s actually a very real possibility that Oman could play one match, win it, and fail to qualify. Someone at the ICC will doubtless be able to claim that they failed to take the opportunity presented to them. We’re not quite sure how they’ll do this, but we’re excited to find out.
Afghanistan have won their first World Cup match. It was only the fifth one wicket win in the history of the tournament. With Ireland beating the UAE by two wickets yesterday, it doesn’t need saying that the Associates have provided more than their fair share of entertainment. But we’ll say it anyway. The Associates have provided more than their fair share of entertainment.
Afghanistan were at one point 97-7 in reply to Scotland’s 210. That isn’t so much sniffing defeat as gnawing at it, covering it in spit. At this point, Samiullah Shenwari from our bizarre list of World Cup players to watch raised his hand and requested permission to attend the party. After making 96, he exited the party and left numbers 10 and 11, Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran, to do all the clearing up.
This match alone would make a wonderful extra chapter to Out of The Ashes. The sequel – Back To The Ashes With You – would then see them sitting at home watching India repeatedly playing Australia in the 2019 World Cup.
Izatullah Dawlatzai got up this morning and thought to himself: “Maybe today’s the day that I, Izatullah Dawlatzai, will make a name for myself. I will bowl so well against the World Twenty20 Champions that the name Izatullah Dawlatzai will forever be synonymous with bowling that is both spectacularly destructive and also admirably economical.”
To be fair, he did take two wickets, but he also conceded 56 runs in three overs. “Oh well,” he thought. “We can chase 197. I’ve a chance to make amends yet.”
At 26-8, Izatullah Dawlatzai will have been champing at the bit. “My chance is nearly here. One more wicket and I can show them what I can do.” Several over later, he finally got his chance, but after facing only three balls, during which he failed to score a run, he was left stranded on nought not out.
He was primed, he was ready, but circumstances denied him his opportunity to shine. Poor Izatullah Dawlatzai.
Much has been made of the fact that MS Dhoni wants seven batsmen and four bowlers in his Twenty20 side, even though you have to use at least five bowlers.
‘Sacrilege’, people cry. Not really. Batsman number seven might not contribute much, but the value of a specialist bowler isn’t always so great in Twenty20 either.
Actually, let’s clarify that a little. A really good bowler is fantastic to have and may well win you the game. A pretty good bowler is often neither here nor there. Dhoni clearly feels that there isn’t much to choose between his fifth bowler and his part-timers. He might have a point.
It’s odd that Yuvraj Singh isn’t considered to be one of five bowlers. He seems to be kept in the ‘fiddling through some overs’ category, but his Twenty20 record’s pretty solid and he’s taken over a hundred wickets in one-day internationals.
Watching him bowl, you kind of feel that the batsman should be carefully selecting a stand in which to land the ball, but it never happens. He’s the irritating non-spinning spinner who you for some reason can’t slog. Twenty20 teams are built around those guys.
Yuvraj took 3-24 off four overs against Afghanistan today and other than Afghanistan’s fielders, he did as much as anyone to prevent an upset.
Don’t give us that ‘if Afghanistan had fielded better’ crap, by the way. They played pretty well, but fielding’s part of the game.