World Cup, India vs Afghanistan: Virat Kohli-Naveen-ul-Haq Duel Set to Corner Spotlight

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The rise of Afghanistan’s cricket in the last seven years has been one of the most endearing stories in world cricket. Their journey from playing qualifiers to automatic entry in a World Cup notwithstanding is commendable. However, they still have a long way to go before they can be considered as a major threat to top teams. Yet, the self-belief in their demeanour is unmistakable.

Going into their match against hosts India here at the Arun Jaitley stadium on Saturday, much of the talk has been about the duel between Naveen-ul-Haq and Virat Kohli.

It doesn’t necessarily revolve around their cricket but the on-field feud between the two during anIPL match between Lucknow Super Giants and Royal Challengers Bangalore this year.

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It’s interesting that Indian cricket has played a major role in the evolution of Afghan cricket. They have found homes in Noida, Dehradun and Lucknow when things were politically tense back home. The players largely have grown up idolizing Indian cricketers, some of whom are even contemporaries.

“India is like our home. We have played and trained here and the people of India give a lot of love to Afghanistan people. And what happens in the ground, that aggression comes to every player. It’s not about India and Afghanistan. Still if you see a lot of our players have idols from India like Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. So, there’s not any concern about that,” Afghanistan captain Hashmatullah Shahidi said, trying to play down the impending Kohli-Naveen showdown at the pre-match press conference.

The IPL value
Former India player Ajay Jadeja has been with the Afghanistan team for the past one week as mentor for the World Cup. He doesn’t mind bringing up the IPL deals that many of the Afghan players have secured for themselves. “If you talk about them being equals, just look at the IPL deals they have got. The Indian franchises pay heavy sums for them. It just says about the quality that these boys have,” Jadeja said on the sidelines of the team’s practice on Tuesday afternoon.

“They are a new team. That’s why they struggle to close out games against bigger teams. Yet, they are giving the bigger teams a run for their money even at the U-19 level,” he said.

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IPL has been a big factor in the evolution of present Afghan cricketers, giving them confidence and motivation. Left-arm pacer Fareed Ahmad, here as a reserve player, was all about impressing Rashid Khan in the nets. At the top of his run-up, he candidly said: “This is Gujarat Titans’ vice-captain. Hope he helps me get a contract in IPL if I bowl well here.”

Tuesday could be an important day for Afghan cricket. An impressive performance against favourites India will definitely help their stock rise. And that should be motivation enough for them to be at their fighting best.

Source: Times of India