Post bagging ODI status in 2001, Afghanistan are competing in the ICC Cricket World Cup for the second successive edition since their debut in 2015. Their success remains one of the feel good stories in international cricket but, though they’re now established regulars in top international tournaments, and despite their meteoric rise, they enter the 2019 CWC as one of the underdogs . That said, they nearly missed out on this World Cup, scraping through in qualifying after defeats to Scotland, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong.
Back in March, three games into the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, they were none from three in the group stages and on the brink of elimination. They had just lost three in succession, their captain – Asghar Afghan – was in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy, and they had just one group stage match against Nepal remaining, needing a big win and a lot of luck to sneak into the Super Six stage.
They would come back to win the tournament. In fact, they wouldn’t lose another game. They kept their hopes alive with a win against Nepal, who would go on to beat Hong Kong in their final group match to allow Afghanistan through on net run rate on a three-way tie. Mujeeb ur Rehman’s 3-33 and Rahmat Shah’s 68 underpinned a 3-wicket win over West Indies in their first Super Six match, and Stanikzai would return against doctor’s advice to lead his side to the title, comfortably beating the UAE, Ireland and West Indies again in the final to secure their World Cup berth.
The ingredients are there for a few upsets. Naib’s side will fancy their chances against Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh and in their final match against the West Indies, all of whom they have beaten before. In their other six matches, they will start as underdogs, though that label has rarely fazed them in the past.
Before the action begins, Afghanistan play two official warm-up games that give them the opportunity to fine-tune their playing XI. These matches are different in the sense that the teams are free to play all 15 of their squad to experiment with their lineups and test players for fitness issues. Both games are at 03.00pm and will be telecast on Star Sports and streamed live on Hotstar.
Gulbadain Naib (c), Aftab Alam, Dawlat Zadran, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Noor Ali Zadran, Rashid Khan, Asghar Afghan, Hamid Hassan, Hazrat Zazai, Mohammad Shahzad, Najibullah Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Samiullah Shinwari
The most-improved team which can actually dream of a miracle despite entering the World Cup as underdogs.
Strength: Spin is their biggest strength. Led by the talismanic Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi, they have some of the finest tweakers in world cricket
Weakness: Batting is a cause of concern for Afghanistan. New captain Gulbadin Naib is yet to prove his mettle; the World Cup may not be the right place for experimentation
While a majority of the squad is unheralded, they are blessed with some of the finest spin talents, like Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb ur Rahman. Afghanistan will be one of the most exciting teams in this edition of the World Cup and leg-spinner Rashid Khan is a bona fide superstar. The 20-year-old has been a phenomenon since his international debut in 2015 against Zimbabwe and has gone on to dominate domestic T20 competitions around the world. In the one-day format he’s been exceptional. Armed with a deceptive, venomous wrong’un, Rashid has taken 123 wickets in just 57 games at a ridiculous average of 15. In March last year, Rashid became the fastest men’s bowler to 100 ODI wickets, achieving the feat in just 44 matches, eight faster than the previous record of 52 held by Australia’s pace ace Mitch Starc. If Afghanistan are to spring a surprise in the World Cup it will be off the back of Rashid’s magic.
But Afghanistan are not just about Rashid, Nabi and Mujeeb – three of their biggest stars. They also have battle-hardened players like Gulbadin Naib, Mohammad Shahzad and Asghar Afghan.
Their batsmen don’t inspire the same confidence as their bowlers but are capable enough to surprise the opposition. The onus will be on the entertaining Mohammad Shahzad, who smashed 101 in Belfast recently, to get Afghanistan off to a good start with Rahmat Shah anchoring the innings at number three. Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afghan and Nabi will man the middle-order.
An unwanted situation, however, crept in before the start of the tournament with the Afghanistan Cricket Board sacking Asghar as the team captain, just over a month before the start of the tournament. But the players remained united. And a united Afghan team can do wonders in the field.
Afghanistan trained in South Africa before the final leg of preparations in the UK where it played ODIs against Scotland and Ireland. Off the field, their build-up for the World Cup was far from ideal due to the sudden sacking of long-time captain Asghar Afghan from all three formats though he remains part of the ODI squad. Senior players Mohammad Nabi and Rashid took to social media to question the need for a captaincy change less than two months before the quadrennial competition. They were eventually pacified by the selectors and the cricket board. Even head coach Phil Simmons was not kept in the loop as the selectors opted for split captaincy with the unassuming Gulbadin Naib chosen to lead the 50-over side.
In a recent chat with PTI, Afghanistan chief selector Dawlat Khan Ahmadzai insisted that all is well with the team now but it remains to be seen how Naib shoulders the leadership responsibility in on a big stage like the World Cup. He led from the front in an ODI against Ireland in Belfast recently taking a career-best six for 43 in the team’s 126-run victory.
Afghanistan are most dangerous in the T20 format but have also shown their competitiveness in 50-over cricket.
Can Afghanistan take a big scalp at the World Cup? In only their second 50-over World Cup and in the alien conditions of the UK, Afghanistan have an uphill battle to make it to the semi-finals but are certain to give everything they’ve got. They picked up one win in the 2015 World Cup – a thrilling one-wicket victory over Scotland in Dunedin – but have the firepower and growing experience to cause a major upset this summer. Their surplus of spinners could give Australia headaches in their opening fixture, and if confronted with a traditional turning wicket in Manchester, Afghanistan might fancy themselves to score the biggest upset of them all with a win over tournament hosts and favourites England.
AFGHANISTAN AT THE WORLD CUP
A side which has made massive strides in international cricket since its World Cup debut in 2015, it will not be a surprise if a spirited Afghanistan humbles one or two leading sides at the mega event.
Now known for its prowess on the field rather than an also-ran from a troubled nation, all top teams will be wary of the threat they pose.
Afghanistan won only one game in the 2015 edition but that was the time when they did not boast match-winners like Rashid Khan.
Played – 6 | Won – 1 | Lost – 5
2015 – out in group stage
Highest total: 232 v Sri Lanka, Dunedin 2015
Lowest total: 7-111 v England, Sydney 2015
Seven players – Hashmatullah Shahidi, Hazratullah Zazai, Mohammed Shahzad, Mujeeb ur Rehman, Noor Ali Zardan, Rahmat Shah and Rashid Khan are participating in the World Cup for the first time.
GULBADIN NAIB (BOOST REGION – CAPTAIN)
Born on March 16th, 1991 at Loger, the right-handed batsman and a right-arm medium fast bowler has played 53 ODIs since debuting against Canada at Toronto on August 9th, 2011. He has led Afghanistan to victory in the only ODI against Scotland at Edinburgh on May
10th, 2019. He is participating in the World Cup for the second time.
AFTAB ALAM (SPEEN GHAR REGION)
Born on November 30th, 1992 at Nangarhar, the right-handed batsman and a right-arm medium fast bowler has played 22 ODIs since making his debut against Canada at Sharjah on February 16th, 2010. He is participating in the World Cup for the second time.
MOHAMMED ASGHAR AFGHAN (AMO REGION)
Born on December 26th, 1987 at Kabul, the right-hand batsman and a right-arm medium fast bowler has played 100 ODIs since making his debut against Scotland at Benoni on April 19th, 2009. The former captain had led Afghanistan in 56 ODIs – winning 31, losing 21, tied one and with three matches abandoned. He is participating in the World Cup for the second time.
DAWLAT ZARDAN (BAND-E-AMIR REGION)
Born on March 19th, 1988 at Khost, the right-handed batsman and a right-arm fast medium bowler has played 75 ODIs since making debut against Canada at King City (NW) on August 7th, 2011. He is participating in the World Cup for the second time.
HAMID HASSAN (PAKISTAN CUSTOMS)
Born on June 1st, 1987 at Nengrakar, the right-handed batsman and a right-arm fast bowler has Played 33 ODIs since making debut against Scotland at Benoni on April 1th9, 2009. He is participating in the World Cup for the second time.
HASHMATULLAH SHAHIDI (BAND-E-AMIR REGION)
Born on November 4th, 1994 at Logar, the left-handed batsman and an off-break bowler has played 29 ODIs since making his debut against Kenya at Sharjah on October 2nd, 2013. He is participating in the World Cup for the first time.
HAZRATULLAH ZAZAI (BAND-E-AMIR REGION)
Born March 23rd, 1998 at Paktia, the left-handed batsman and a slow left-arm orthodox bowler has played seven ODIs since making his debut against Ireland at Belfast, Aug 27th, 2018. He is participating in the World Cup for the first time.
MOHAMMED NABI (LEICESTERSHIRE)
Born on January 1st, 1985 at Loger, the right-handed batsman and an off-break bowler has played 111 ODIs since making his debut against Scotland at Benoni on April 19th, 2009. The former captain had led Afghanistan in 28 ODIs – winning 13 and losing 15. He is participating in the World Cup for the second time.
MOHAMMED SHAHZAD MOHAMMADI (HABIB BANK LIMITED)
Born on January 10th, 1987, Nangarhar, the right-handed batsman and a wicket-keeper has played 80 ODIs since making his debut against the Netherlands at Amstelveen on August 30th, 2009. He is participating in the World Cup for the first time.
MUJEEB UR RAHMAN (SPEEN GHAR REGION)
Born on March 28th, 2001 at Khost, the right-handed batsman and an off-break bowler has played 28 ODIs since making his debut against Ireland at Sharjah on December 5th, 2017. He is participating in the World Cup for the first time.
NAJINBULLAH ZARDAN (BOOST REGION)
Born on February 28th, 1993 at Logar, the left-handed batsman and a right-arm off-break bowler has played 55 ODIs since making his debut against Ireland at Dublin on July 5th, 2012. He is participating in the World Cup for the second time.
NOOR ALI ZARDAN (MIS AINAK REGION)
Born on July 10th, 1988 at Khost, the right-handed batsman and a right-arm medium fast bowler has played 47 ODIs since making his debut against Scotland at Benoni on April 19th, 2009. He is participating in the World Cup for the first time.
RAHMAT SHAH (MIS AINAK REGION)
Born on July 6th, 1993 at Paktia, the right-handed batsman and a leg-break googly bowler has played 59 ODIs since making his debut against Scotland at Sharjah on March 6th, 2013. He is participating in the World Cup for the first time.
RASHID KHAN ARMAN (SUSSEX)
Born on September 20th, 1998, Nangarhar, the right-handed batsman and a leg-break googly bowler has played 57 ODIs since making his debut against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo on October 18th, 2015. The former captain had led Afghanistan in four ODIs – winning one and losing three. He is participating in the World Cup for the first time.
SAMIULLAH SHENWARI ((BOOST REGION):
Born on February 3rd, 1987 at Nangrahar, the right-handed batsman and a leg-break bowler has played 81 ODIs since making his debut against Scotland at Benoni on April 19th, 2009. He is participating in the World Cup for the second time.
Don’t be surprised if Afghanistan produce the highlight of the tournament like they did in 2015. While the individual heroics of Starc, AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle and Kumar Sangakkara four years ago are etched into World Cup folklore, Afghanistan’s emotional win over Scotland was the moment of the quadrennial event. The expectation on Afghanistan, now a full member nation, has significantly increased since the 2015 tournament but if they were to pull off a win against a major team (and if it was India there would be no debate) they would probably steal the show in the UK.
Coached by legendary Windies all-rounder, Phil Simmons, Afghans are sure to make their presence felt in the World Cup. They open their campaign with a fixture against defending champions Australia on June 1st at County Ground, Bristol.
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