Afghanistan cricket has come a long way in the past few years. After putting up a decent show in the 2017 Champions Trophy, the team has managed to cultivate an atmosphere which has led them to greater avenues and several memorable moments. This being said, there are still areas the team needs to improve upon, but they have proved to be a team that can make opponents stutter and stumble and hence, are the first realistic dark horses for the 2019 World Cup in England.
Though the team does not boast of an exceptional batting line-up, the likes of Mohammad Shahzad, captain Asghar Stanikzai, and Shamiullah Shenwari have displayed grit and several instances of powerful striking, that have shaken up their opposition. With two quality all-rounders in Mohammad Nabi and young sensation Rashid Khan also capable of striking the ball a long way, it is safe to say Afghanistan have an easily above-average batting line-up. However, these batsmen have to display more consistency than ever if the team has to excel in England. With the new ball bound to swing both ways and the slightly older ball deviating off the pitch, the batsmen will have to abandon their powerful hitting and settle for a more balanced, composed and careful approach, with utmost concentration. They will have to wait until they get their eye in before going hammer and tongs because the pitches and conditions in England demand a very keen eye for detail and an extremely high level of focus.
Their bowling is their biggest plus point. Both the express pace offered by the likes of Shapoor Zadran and Dawlat Zadran as well as the exceptional spin quality that Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rehman will be pivotal in Afghanistan’s bid to go a reasonable distance in the World Cup.
Mohammad Nabi, too, can chip in with a few good overs in between. The onus, however, will be on the pace bowlers. As discussed before, the swinging new ball will be the key to a good start. Given the pace bowlers hit the right rhythm early and are able to control the movement in the air, wickets are definitely there for the taking. If they do manage a couple of early strikes or more, the two spinners’ work will be made much easier. While Rashid has made a mark for himself with some brilliant bowling and lusty hitting in the 2017 and 2018 editions of the IPL, Mujeeb excelled in the 2018 IPL, bowling neatly, be it in the PowerPlay, middle overs or even in the death. In England, these two can definitely make the old ball skid and deviate off the pitch, resulting in several testing times for the opposition batsmen.
There is not an iota of doubt in the quality that Afghanistan’s bowling possesses, but a lot will depend on their resilience, mental strength and the tactical acumen that Head Coach, Phil Simmons, and his team adopt in their first ever World Cup.
Finally, the exposure the team is getting in the days preceding the World Cup is bound to benefit the team in more ways than one. Their most recent 3-0 T20 series whitewash of Bangladesh is a massive indicator of the team’s dynamic strategy, although it did show signs of dependency on Rashid Khan’s exploits. In addition, their first ever Test against India is bound to reveal more about how the team functions as a unit and the squad definitely looks up for the challenge posed by the Indian team and weather conditions. Apart from this, the fact that Afghanistan has been allowed to play the teams touring India in warm-up games will make sure the team gets enough exposure to batsmen and bowlers from outfits across the globe, which promises to be a rich learning experience for the players. The biggest plus, however, will be the team’s tour of Ireland after the Test against India. Ireland boasts of conditions that are almost a mirror image of the ones in England, and hence, Afghanistan is bound to get a taste of what England will be like, through this tour.
If all these factors come into play in the right manner, at the right place, at the right time, Afghanistan, champions of the World Cup 2019 Qualifiers, will definitely be a dark-horse in the 2019 ICC World Cup, and is definitely capable of springing up several surprises, as it has done in the past.