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ENG vs AFG: ICC World Cup 2023 comes alive as ‘underdog’ Afghanistan stuns defending champion England

World Cups are not entirely about who triumphs in the end. These multi-nation championships are also about those stunning delights.

These may seem microscopic in the larger scheme of things, but obviously, their effects are macroscopic for the concerned team that sprung a surprise against a strong rival. And therein lies the charm.

Years down the line, there could be a trivia question in a random quiz about Afghanistan’s stunning dismantling of England at Delhi’s Arun Jaitley Stadium on a feverish Sunday.

However, there is no mistaking the aura this upset will acquire back home in a rugged landscape especially with urban spaces like Kabul and Kandahar further embellishing the collective memory of the Afghans.

Sports at its best is the elixir of unpredictability even if teams or an individual acquires streaks of dominance, which in turn becomes a comfort pillow for millions of fans.

Even when there is a touch of monopoly, it is the rebellion of the underdog against the established order that adds zest to the consumption of any athletic endeavour moisturised by sweat, elevated by enormous self-belief and powered by a sense of magic.

India’s rousing 1983 World Cup win is all the more sweeter because it came at the expense of the then reigning champion – the West Indies. That incredible night at Lord’s has found a constant echo over the years, be it through nostalgia, sporting literature like newspaper features and books, and even provided fodder for a film.

More than 10 days since the first ball was bowled in the latest ICC World Cup, it was now Afghanistan’s turn to stun and stage a coup, that too against defending champion England.

India, all dominance and swagger now, has also been at the receiving end in the past. The loss to Zimbabwe in the 1999 World Cup in England or the stumble against Bangladesh in the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, have left scars forever.

In the current edition, rivals on an even keel can cause mild tremors like New Zealand’s win over England in the tournament opener at Ahmedabad. But the script acquires an ominous note when a lesser fancied unit reveals fangs.

Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Rashid Khan combined well to alter England’s best-laid plans. Afghanistan has the ability within its ranks and this is an outfit here on merit while the West Indies failed to qualify! With Australia placed in the bottom half of the table, this World Cup, despite its ‘early days’ caveat, has finally come alive.

Meanwhile, the Men in Blue are in Pune, resting a bit, and also fine-tuning strategies for the road ahead in a long tournament that will conclude on November 19.

Even in the 2011 World Cup, eventual champion India lost an earlier league clash against South Africa. These are reality checks that the team will be conscious about especially when rivals like New Zealand, England and South Africa await on the path ahead.

There is also the fineprint about India last winning an ICC title, the Champions Trophy, in 2013, and this long gap needs to be addressed.

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