The Afghanistan cricketers and support staff spent their entire Thursday afternoon living on hope and a prayer.
They had to address a sponsored event, but the eyes of the entourage frequently darted towards their smartphone screens to find out about the scores of the New Zealand vs Sri Lanka World Cup fixture in Bengaluru.
By the time they reached the Narendra Modi Stadium for their optional training session on the eve of the last group league fixture against South Africa, Afghanistan’s hopes were dented further.
With New Zealand pulling off a convincing win against Sri Lanka and inching closer to the semifinals, in all practicality, the campaign seems over for the Afghans.
Even though, mathematically, there are some vague chances, Afghanistan’s net run rate of -0.338 is the worst among the three teams – New Zealand, Pakistan being the other two – vying for the fourth slot in the semifinals.
So far in the tournament, the team racked up four wins – including the ones against England and Pakistan – and as captain Hashmatullah Shahidi stated, it would be hoping to make a strong statement against South Africa, which has already reached the semifinals.
The Afghans need to pick themselves up from the improbable defeat and put up a spirited performance. The batters – Ibrahim Zadran, Shahidi, Rahmanullah Gurbaz – have all been impressive in the tournament, but a lot lies on the spinners, and at a venue that’s familiar to Rashid Khan, who plays for Gujarat Titans in the IPL, he needs to play a significant role. So far in the tournament, Rashid hasn’t been in his element and has struggled to find breakthroughs.
South Africa, too, are keen on bouncing back after a humiliating defeat against India. Captain Temba Bavuma, who has just scored 122 in six outings, hasn’t been able to contribute significantly, and ahead of the knockouts, he needs to find form.
However, Quinton de Kock has piled on the runs in his swansong, while Heinrich Klaasen and Aiden Markram, too, have stepped up. Keshav Maharaj has been its go-to-bowler in the middle-overs, but it needs to be seen whether South Africa opts for an extra spin option of Tabraiz Shamsi.