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South Africa, Afghanistan look to rise above deep scars to seal T20 WC final berth

Without belittling the poised run of the Proteas, Afghanistan have been the revelation of this ICC showpiece.
Last Updated : 26 June 2024, 08:44 IST

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Tarouba (Trinidad): Tournament story-makers Afghanistan will be up against perennial dark horses South Africa in the first semifinal of the T20 World Cup here, a much-anticipated showdown that will be historic irrespective of the outcome.

Without belittling the poised run of the Proteas, Afghanistan have been the revelation of this ICC showpiece.

They found life and fighting spirit to rise above the ravages of war back in their country, best exemplified by an astounding win over 2021 winners Australia, whom they had never beaten before.

There were multiple heroes -- skipper Rashid Khan has been immense throughout, pacers Fazalhaq Farooqi and Naveen-ul-Haq have given early breakthroughs, Gulbadin Naib conjured a miraculous spell against the Aussies while Mohammad Nabi remained perseverant.

Opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz leads the batting chart with 281 runs, while Farooqi is on top of the bowling list with 16 scalps.

It is a story in itself as how two Afghanistan players have raced past some marquee names to the top of the stats table.

But all of it can come to nothing if they falter at the Brian Lara Academy, a venue named after the West Indian legend who has supported Afghanistan to the hilt.

The Afghans are a skilled set of cricketers, on whose back the team rose brilliantly from the low-tier obscurity of the early 2000s.

So, they are not unfamiliar to intense competition and T20, more than any other format, offers them the chance to challenge the big brothers.

But they have never competed in the semifinal of a World Cup, and the Afghans now need to control their nerves to overcome a fancied opponent.

Head coach Jonathan Trott affirmed his side was not perturbed by the big occasion.

"We go into the semifinal with no scarring or no history. This is uncharted territory for us. But, by no means, do we feel like we're going into the semifinal just to compete.

"We're there to win the semifinal. We've beaten some major teams," Trott said after the win over Bangladesh.

South Africa's scars also run deep but they are purely of cricketing nature.

In the past, the Proteas have assembled some high-velocity squads but never managed to enter the title round of a T20 or 50-over World Cup after their re-admission into world cricket in 1991.

To change that long-running show of misfortune, South Africa need to tame not just Afghanistan but also the demons in their own minds.

The signs have so far have given hope.

In this event, they have shown a propensity to win the clutch moments, their Achilles Heel in previous global tournaments, that often prop up without any warning.

But here, they have notched up victories as close as one-run (vs Nepal), four-run (vs Bangladesh) and three wickets (vs West Indies).

South Africa of old could have bungled in those situations, but Aiden Markram's side has displayed remarkable fortitude. They seem to have escaped the hackneyed C-Word.

Experienced left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj explained his team's run in this World Cup.

"If you look at previous World Cups, the small moments, we haven't really won. It's good to see that all the games have come really close and we've found a way, so it's building the character within the team.

"It prepares us for certain opportunities that we could get and cross over the line in those small moments. These are things that we've never done before. So, it's good to see us getting into that," said Maharaj.

His words offer a true reflection of the collective effort South Africa have made here.

There is only one South African player in top-10 batters' list. Quinton de Kock is placed sixth with 199 runs from seven matches, while none of their bowlers feature inside the first 10.

But here they are, playing in the semifinal and they will have to negate those small, key moments against Afghanistan, perhaps in the next match too.

For once, South Africa might not feel overwhelmed by that thought.

If Afghanistan too can keep their heartbeats in check, a classic for the ages seems well on the cards.

Squads:

Afghanistan: Rashid Khan (c), Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Ibrahim Zadran, Azmatullah Omarzai, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Ishaq, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Karim Janat, Nangyal Kharoti, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Noor Ahmad, Naveen-ul-Haq, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Fareed Ahmad Malik. Reserves: Sediq Atal, Hazratullah Zazai, Saleem Safi.

South Africa: Aiden Markram (c), Ottniel Baartman, Gerald Coetzee, Quinton de Kock, Bjorn Fortuin, Reeza Hendricks, Marco Jansen, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, David Miller, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Ryan Rickelton, Tabraiz Shamsi, Tristan Stubbs.

Match starts at 6am IST.

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Published 26 June 2024, 08:44 IST

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