Afghanistan is staring at an economic collapse after the fall of Kabul in August. People moved out of the country to escape from the Taliban. Jobs are scarce and the nation is waiting for humanitarian aid from the world. Uncertainty affected the cricketing community, too. Afghanistan could not travel to Pakistan for the ODI series, and the Shpageeza Cricket League — the local franchise-based T20 tournament — had to be postponed.

In such times, Afghanistan’s T20 World Cup participation as a Full Member of the ICC is a boost. Despite no game time as a unit in these months, Afghanistan will bank on its T20 experts to lead the contingent.

Impact batters

Afghanistan will never be short of confidence if their impact batters Mohammad Shahzad and Mohammad Nabi lead the charge with the promising Hazratullah Zazai. Shahzad is all about power with gifted hand-eye coordination. And the UAE has been his happy hunting ground. He stands like a rock, hunches a little to meet the delivery at eye level. He has plenty of unorthodox shots in his arsenal to send it out of the ground.

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The 34-year-old maverick batter is the top T20I run-scorer for Afghanistan. And, out of the 1,936 runs, 1,079 came in the UAE, including an unbeaten 118 against Zimbabwe. The big man has recently been enjoying his stint at the Everest Premier League in Nepal.

Zazai is a young power-hitter with a sharp sense of timing. The super-fast bat swing and bottom hand strength enable him to clear the rope effortlessly. The left-handed batter had been in great nick in the Pakistan Super League for Peshawar Zalmi scoring three crucial fifties. The side finished runner-up in the competition.

Mohammad Nabi, a situational batter and a shrewd off-break bowler.   –  Getty Images

 

Rashid, unplayable

The bowling is largely dependent on leg-spinner Rashid Khan. The World No. 3 spinner has been unplayable in the T20 format. He is the face of Afghanistan cricket. The nation has won three men’s T20Is in its history against the Full Members of the tournament’s Super 12. All three came against the West Indies in India — the first in the T20 World Cup in 2016 in Nagpur; two in the series in 2019 in Lucknow. Rashid was part of all three wins, twice as captain.

In the last T20 World Cup, he was the second-highest wicket-taker — 11 wickets at 16.63 — as Afghanistan reached the Super 10 stage. It was the only side to beat the eventual champion.

Rashid hopes to lift the T20 World Cup. It is his dream. “We have achieved a lot over the last 10 years as a team. Where we came from, where we had no facilities, we came from that stage and we’ve played lots of World Cups. It’s a dream of every country to be called a Test team and we’ve got that as well, we’ve played Test games. We have achieved a lot.”

“We have that target in the future that one day we have the ability to win the World Cup, especially the T20 World Cup. That’s the focus of everyone back home. That’s the dream of everyone, that’s the target of every player and we are capable of achieving that target. We have that belief in our skills and ourselves, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to achieve that target in the future,” he was quoted as saying by the ICC.

Rashid, however, will not lead the side. He stepped down as his opinion wasn’t sought ahead of the team selection for the Cup. Nabi is back as captain. The team management comprises Lance Klusener as head coach, Shaun Tait as bowling coach and Andy Flower as the consultant.

Weakness: Lack of practice

Besides the change in captaincy, lack of practice is a shortcoming for the Cup-bound players. Afghanistan’s last T20I series against Zimbabwe happened in March with Asghar Afghan as the skipper. The team has been training in Doha without senior players.

Afghanistan will start its campaign in Sharjah on October 25 against the winners of Group B from the tournament’s first round — one of Bangladesh, Oman, Papua New Guinea or Scotland. It is grouped with India, New Zealand and Pakistan in Group B, and will be joined by the runner-up from the other qualifying pool — either Ireland, Namibia, Netherlands or Sri Lanka.

The squad

  • Mohammad Nabi (captain), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Hazratullah Zazai, Usman Ghani, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Hashmatullah Shahidi, Asghar Afghan, Gulbadin Naib, Najibullah Zadran, Karim Janat, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Hamid Hassan, Fareed Ahmad, Naveen Ul Haq
  • Reserve players: Sharafuddin Ashraf, Samiullah Shinwari, Dawlat Zadran, Fazalhaq Farooqi

X-factor: Mohammad Nabi

Nabi strikes the ball at 145.72 in T20Is. He is a situational batter who knows his role. A shrewd off-break bowler, Nabi continues to trap superstar batters in T20 cricket. He represented London Spirits in The Hundred and Northamptonshire in the Vitaly Blast and will perhaps be the most prepared all-rounder going into the tournament.

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