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The Roar's Cricket World Cup preview series: Afghanistan

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19th May, 2019
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Afghanistan are one of two sides who were forced to qualify for the 2019 Cricket World Cup, and they will be looking to make the most of their huge opportunity, but in truth, seem likely to struggle through their nine matches..

Afghanistan World Cup squad

Gulbadin Naib (c), Mohammad Shahzad, Noor Ali Zadran, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Afghan, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shinwari, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Aftab Alam, Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman

While Afghanistan have been one of the good news stories in the cricket world over the last couple of years, including gaining full membership and Test match status, but their World Cup squad has raised eyebrows.

The big surprise is the inclusion of former captain Asghar Afghan, who was only axed last month, in a squad which will be led by Gulbadin Naib.

Also included is fast bowler Hamid Hassan, who has struggled with his fitness in the last two years and, apart from their lead-up series against Scotland, hasn’t played an ODI since 2017.

Australian audiences will be familiar with Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi, all of whom featured in the Big Bash last summer.

Rashid Khan of the Adelaide Strikers

(AAP Image/David Mariuz)

The trio will have enormous roles to play for Afghanistan, while former captain Afghan, Hashmatullah Shahidi and Rahmat Shah will look to lead the way with the bat.

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If those six men can have strong tournaments, then Afghanistan stand more than a chance of throwing a cat amongst the pigeons.

Strengths

Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s the spin bowling which will need to stand strong for Afghanistan throughout the campaign.

As mentioned above, Mujeeb, Rashid and Nabi have enormous roles to play, and it’s the first two in that list who have been picked as the specialist spin bowlers, while Nabi will add some extra overs as an all-rounder.

All things going well, the trio could well bowl 30 overs between them each match, and at their best, they are all difficult to get away.

Rashid Khan in particular, has built his reputation as one of the best limited overs bowlers on the planet, varying his pace and length nicely to have batsmen in two minds all the time.

His variations will become even more crucial on the small English grounds throughout the course of the tournament, where the margin for error becomes virtually non-existent.

Get it wrong, and some of the best batsmen in the world will be sending you on a journey.

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Mujeeb, on the other hand, is still extremely young and honing his craft, however, there have been good signs in T20 leagues, and this will be his real chance to make a break.

Looking at raw numbers, there is no question Rashid Khan has the better account of himself, but Mujeeb’s 51 wickets in 28 ODIs is nothing to be sneezed at.

Weaknesses

In a couple of words, leadership and batting.

Given what we talked about above, their selection seems a little all over the place. Including a former captain who was only dropped a month ago could create something of a rivalry at the top of the team.

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Of course, throw Nabi in alongside the current captain and a former one, and it could also have the opposite effect, but if there is even the slightest hint of disagreement on tactics, it’s going to cost the middle eastern nation dearly.

While we have seen Afghanistan put in some solid performances with the bat recently, it’s been inconsistent.

A recent two-all tied series against Ireland is an enormous cause for concern, while the Asia Cup,which is the tournament you can take more away from than any others due to the nature of opposition, saw them fail to pass 300 once in five games.

If they are to pick up their batting, then it’s down to former skipper Afghan and Hashmatullah Shahidi to pave the way, with the duo scoring 427 and 484 ODI runs respectively since June.

Key player: Moahmmad Nabi

While you’d ordinarily go for one of the spin bowlers, I’m going to take Nabi as the man who holds the most sway over how Afghanistan go in the Cricket World Cup.

Nabi, as with any team he plays in, has crucial roles to play with both bat and bowl.

It’d be fair to say his Afghanistan ODI form has been a little on the inconsistent side, however, the 34-year-old knows how to deliver a good performance.

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While he hasn’t had an ODI century since 2015, he brings poise to the side and an ability to know exactly what his job is and carry it out – more often than not, be aggressive.

With the ball, he provides consistency and certainty that Afghanistan can get overs out of a reliable fifth option, which is crucial in ODI cricket.

Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi

Mohammad Nabi(AP Photo/A.M. Ahad, File)

The verdict: Might struggle, but could surprise a few top sides

Afghanistan have the players in their squad to surprise a couple of sides at the top end of the competition, as well as to be very competitive, bordering on favourites against the sides around and below them.

In terms of having the depth to win enough of their nine games and mount a push for the finals, it’s probably not going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise to see them escape the grasp of the bottom two.

Prediction: Eighth