Dark horses Afghanistan look to leave a mark at the Global Stage

By Amit Shukla

Since Afghanistan have emerged on the international scene, they have taken a special liking to the T20 format. They amazed everyone by qualifying for T20 World Cup in 2010. They also managed to earn their maiden T20 World Cup qualifier title in their 1st appearance itself.

While they lost both their matches against India and South Africa, they did have their moments. Afghans restricted South Africa to just 139/7 off 20 overs. However, their batsmen could not handle the fiery South Africa attack as they were bundled out for just 80 runs.

Afghanistan built on this success and qualified for the 2012 and 2014 T20 World Cups. The Asian side finished runners-up in qualifiers of both editions. In 2012, they gave India a scare before eventually losing by 23 runs. Then in 2014, Afghanistan had a disappointing T20 World Cup. The Afghans lost to Bangladesh and Nepal and could manage a victory only against Hong Kong. Thus, they also failed to make it to the Super 10 stage.

Afghanistan had a below-par outing in the T20 World Cup qualifier in 2015. They finished 5th and lost to Oman in the group stage and Hong Kong in the playoffs. However, a 5th place finish was enough to seal their birth for the 2016 T20 World Cup.

Afghanistan turned things around in the 2016 T20 World Cup as they won all 3 first-round matches convincingly. Hence, they also qualified for the Super 10 stage where they beat the West Indies.

Rashid Khan debuted for Afghanistan in 2015 and since his debut, Afghanistan were able to take the next step forward. Since then, many Afghanistan cricketers, especially Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Zadran and Mohammad Nabi have been regulars in various T20 leagues around the world. With other Afghanistan players also playing in various T20 leagues, Afghanistan has gained a lot of experience in this format. Thus they have dominated the likes of Ireland, Zimbabwe and the Associates in the shortest format of the game.

Afghanistan jumped to No.8 in the t20i rankings for T20 World Cup 2020, which was later postponed to 2021. By being in the top 8, Afghanistan also gained direct entry to the Super 12 stage.

With the recent happenings in Afghanistan and Afghanistan facing an uncertain future in cricket, the team would be hoping to leave a mark at the T20 World Cup.

Squad: Mohammad Nabi (c), Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Hazratullah Zazai, Usman Ghani, Mohammad Shahzad, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Asghar Afghan, Gulbadin Naib, Najibullah Zadran, Karim Janat, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Hamid Hassan, Farid Ahmed Malik, Naveen ul Haq.

Reserves: Sharafuddin Ashraf, Samiullah Shinwari, Dawlat Zadran, Fazal Haq Farooqi

Recent form:

Afghanistan have mostly played Ireland and Zimbabwe. They won their most recent T20I series 3-0 against both teams. Afghanistan also started their CWC Super League campaign against Ireland earlier this year and won tgecseroes 3-0. Also in 2019, Afghanistan beat the West Indies 2-1 in a T20I series.

Chances at the 2021 T20 World cup:

Afghanistan is grouped alongside India, Pakistan, New Zealand, winners of Group B and runners-up of Group A. With conditions suiting them, they are not meant to be taken lightly.

They will be looking to avoid defeats against both teams who qualify from the qualifying rounds and would hopeo to bet at least 1 of the big teams.

Afghanistan strength lies in their spin bowling attack, which many rate as the best in the tournament. Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Zadran and Mohammad Nabi are regulars in various T20 leagues. They are the superstars in this format and the opponents won’t find it easy against them. While pacers like Naveen Ul Haq and Karim Janat will look to use their variations to come handy on the UAE wickets.

Afghanistan batsmen have mostly been untested against bowlers of big teams. So batting could be an area of concern. However, the warm-ups showed that Afghanistan does have the batting which can succeed at this level. Hazratullah Zazai, Mohammad Shahzad and Rahmanullah Gurbaz will form the top-order. All three of them are capable of playing destructive knocks. So if they fire then even the top teams would find it difficult against the Afghanistan side. Najibullah Zadran, Nabi and Rashid will look to provide the team with strong finishes.

Players to watch out for:

Rashid Khan: When you think about Afghanistan cricket, the first name you think of is Rashid Khan. The leg spinner has played 284 T20 matches, taking 392 wickets at an average of 17.62 and an impressive economy of 6.35. The 22-year-old is one of the hottest picks in every T20 league around the world. Rashid is also a handy lower-order batsman. He is capable of playing the big shots as shown by a batting strike rate of 144.65. Afghanistan chances will certainly depend a lot on him.

Mohammad Nabi: The spin-bowling all-rounder has been playing for Afghanistan since WCL Divisional tournaments and is now a regular in various T20 leagues. The veteran has picked 292 wickets in 304 T20 matches at an average of 23.76 and an economy impressive of 6.95, besides scoring 4688 runs at an average of 22.53 and strike rate of 141.07. The 36-year-old can put the breaks on the opposition team in the powerplay and has an excellent record against the left-handers. Afghanistan can also depend upon their skipper to provide them with strong finishes with his hard-hitting.

Hazratullah Zazai: Zazai entered his name in record books with a knock of 162* off 62 balls against Ireland in 2019. However, he has been inconsistent. Afghanistan will be hoping that the opener can provide them with explosive starts in the matches. Overall, the southpaw has struck 1896 runs in 65 T20 matches at an average of 30.09 and an impressive strike rate. of 147.89.

Author’s take: Afghanistan is expected to beat both the teams from the qualifying round. And against the big teams, they will be competitive. While they are not favourites to make it to the semis, still their chances can’t be ruled out with the conditions favouring them. Moreover, the T20 format is ideally suited for their style of play. Hence, these factors make Afghanistan the dark horses of this tournament.

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