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T20 World Cup: Afghanistan’s dream to continue or South Africa’s jinx to end?

T20 World Cup: Afghanistan’s dream to continue or South Africa’s jinx to end?

Afghanistan have reached their first World Cup semi-final, 16 years on from playing in international cricket’s lowest tier; South Africa are into an eighth semi-final, looking to rebound from losing their previous seven – watch live on Sky Sports from 1am, Thursday

Image: Watch Afghanistan vs South Africa in the T20 World Cup semi-finals live on Sky Sports Cricket from 1am on Thursday (1.30am first ball)

Sixteen years on from playing in the lowest tier of international cricket, Afghanistan are flourishing at the highest.

Their previous rivals were Japan, Botswana, Bahamas and Jersey but, after a staggering rise in the sport, they will now face South Africa on Thursday – live on Sky Sports from 1am – for a spot in this weekend’s T20 World Cup final, against either England or India.

Afghanistan captain Rashid Khan described reaching the last four of a World Cup for the first time as a “dream” after their place was secured with a nerve-shredding victory over Bangladesh.

  • Afghanistan reach World Cup semis and knock Australia out
  • South Africa weather West Indies rally to reach semi-finals
  • T20 World Cup: Results, fixtures, venues and schedule

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Highlights as Afghanistan edged past Bangladesh to reach their first World Cup semi-final

But there is every reason to believe this “dream” can extend. Afghanistan beating a more-established cricketing nation than themselves is no upset anymore.

They have knocked off Bangladesh, New Zealand and Australia in this tournament – their 21-run victory over the latter crucial in pipping them to a semi-final berth – and they defeated Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England in last year’s 50-over World Cup in India. They were on course to beat Australia then, too, only for Glenn Maxwell’s spellbinding double hundred to deny them.

Sky Sports Cricket’s Nasser Hussain said of Afghanistan: “Don’t put this down to the shorter format and say it’s anomaly, that’s nonsense. They are the most improved cricketing nation in the last five years because of the ability they have.

“Because they have that ability, they are wanted by franchises – the IPL, The Hundred, the Big Bash. Everyone wants Afghanistan players. Rashid is probably the most sought-after but there are others. Because they are wanted, they then get better, more experienced.

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Afghanistan captain Rashid Khan lost his cool and threw his bat as nerves jangled against Bangladesh

“Other than their ability they have so much passion and love for the game. I think Jonathan Trott is good for them as head coach with their aggression, Trotty calms them down behind the scenes. He is not going ballistic on the sidelines.”

Afghanistan may have preferred to be in the daytime semi-final in Guyana, rather than the evening game in Trinidad, with the success of their spin bowling on drier surfaces seen as a key strength and leg-spin maestro Rashid having bagged 14 wickets in the competition.

But their leading wicket-taker is left-arm fast bowler Fazalhaq Farooqi – his 16 strikes are the most by any player in the tournament – and right-armer Naveen-ul-Haq has bagged 13. Fellow seamer Gulbadin Naib – he of ‘injured’ leg fame – has also chipped in with seven, including 4-20 against Australia.

A match under the lights may not be that much of an issue for Afghanistan, then. What may be an issue is the strength of the opposition.

Will unbeaten South Africa end semi-final hoodoo?

Image: South Africa fast bowler Anrich Nortje has taken 11 wickets in this T20 World Cup

South Africa are the only side to win all seven of their fixtures (India may have done likewise had their game with Canada not been rained off) with the Proteas perhaps battle-hardened by some of those victories being extremely tight and ever so nervy.

Aiden Markram’s men were 12-4 in a chase of 104 against Netherlands. They beat Bangladesh by four runs in a nipper in New York. They edged associate nation Nepal by one run in a thrilling finish in Kingstown. And that was just in round one.

In the Super 8s, South Africa staved off a spirited comeback from USA to triumph by 18 runs. They then, thanks to excellent death bowling, recovered from an England fightback to see off Jos Buttler’s side by seven runs after the defending champions had trimmed their ask to 25 from 18 balls during a riotous partnership between Harry Brook and Liam Livingstone for the fifth wicket.

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Highlights of South Africa’s seven-run win over England in the Super 8s at the T20 World Cup

Finally, in their must-win clash against West Indies, the Proteas claimed victory with five balls to spare in a DLS-adjusted chase of 123 as Jansen – one of the death-bowling stars against England – thumped six off the bat to take his team into their eighth World Cup semi-final across the T20 and 50-over versions.

Now here is where the true test begins for South Africa. They have lost each of their previous seven semi-finals, which is the chief reason for the ‘chokers’ tag that follows them around.

The most recent of those defeats came in the 50-over edition in India last autumn when they lost to Australia by three wickets.

The most harrowing probably came against the same opposition at Edgbaston in 1999 when they tied – and went out due to inferior net run-rate from the group stage – as Allan Donald was comically run out after ball watching and dropping his bat.

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South Africa opener Quinton de Kock took Jofra Archer for three boundaries in a row in the game versus England

South Africa supporters will hope the close games their side have encountered in this T20 World Cup can help them end that semi-final jinx if things get anxious against Afghanistan.

But they will hope more than anything that there is no anxiety at all and that a star-studded bowling line-up and hard-hitting batting one can complete a comfortable win in Tarouba.

Pacemen Anrich Nortje (11 wickets) and Kagiso Rabada (10) have been backed up by left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj with the ball, while we have seen glimpses with the bat from Quinton de Kock in two half-centuries, one of which came against England.

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De Kock thumped five big sixes against USA at the the T20 World Cup

A World Cup semi-final would be the perfect time for Heinrich Klaasen, one of the most destructive batters in global white-ball cricket, to fire, with his best effort so far 46 off 44 balls against Bangladesh on a tricky New York pitch.

One of these teams is going to reach their first World Cup final. A dream will continue or a hoodoo will be banished.

Watch the first T20 World Cup semi-final, between South Africa and Afghanistan, in Trinidad, live on Sky Sports Cricket from 1am on Thursday (1.30am first ball).

England then play India in the second semi-final, in Guyana, from 3pm on the same channel with the first ball at 3.30pm.

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