GUANGZHOU // Afghanistan coach Rashid Latif did not want his players to be overawed when they took on Pakistan in the Asian Games cricket semifinals, so he hand delivered a message containing a Quranic verse to each of them.
"Do not be scared of your rivals in war. Understand that they are also humans and are scared as well," Latif wrote in his note to every Afghan cricketer in the Athletes Village at Guangzhou last night.
This morning, Afghanistan made history by eliminating the title favourites, Pakistan from the gold medal race with a clinical 22-run victory in the Asian Games Twenty20 tournament.
"I kept reminding players about my last night's message," Latif, the former Pakistan test cricketer, told The Associated Press as he wrapped an Afghan flag around his shoulders.
With only one more win needed for an unlikely gold medal, the celebrations are on hold.
"I won't be celebrating tonight because we won against my home country," he said. "But definitely I will join celebrations with my players tomorrow after the final."
Latif started coaching Afghanistan just a few months back and the dividends are already coming.
He said a medal at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, where cricket made its debut on the sports programme, had long been in his calculations.
"Now who knows which medal comes into our radar tomorrow," he said, flashing a big grin. "It could be gold, you never know."
Latif said he had set his players a total of about 110 to 115 runs to achieve after Afghanistan lost the toss and were sent in to bat by Pakistan. They went beyond his expectations, amassing 125-8 off their 20 overs.
"I knew we could defend the total despite Pakistan getting off to a thunderous start of 30 runs in three overs," Latif said.
There was a sour note to the win, though, with Pakistan's captain, Khalif Latif, accusing Afghanistan wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad of using abusive language.
"Yes he used some bad words in Urdu language which I cannot reveal, but it didn't play any part in my dismissal," Khalid Latif said. "We should have got the total even after I was dismissed but I think the batsmen took a lot of pressure."
Pakistan ended up at 103-7 and now have to play off for bronze against the loser of the Sri Lanka vs Bangladesh semifinals.
"I can't describe in words how disappointed I am, but full marks to Afghanistan and I wish them good luck," the Pakistan captain said.
The Asian Cricket Council spokesman, Shahriar Khan, said the match umpire, Aminul Islam, spoke to Khalid Latif and the Afghanistan wicketkeeper, Mohammad Shahzad, after the match.
"Shahzad tendered a strong apology to the Pakistan captain over the incident, and Latif decided not to lodge an official complaint," Khan said.