Cricket World Cup Profile: Afghanistan could cause a few upsets

Will Afghanistan be one of the also-rans at the 2019 Cricket World Cup, or could they cause a few upsets?

Let’s take a closer look at the Asian outfit, who will be playing in their second World Cup…

Top Two Batsmen: Mohammad Shahzad, Rahmat Shah

Mohammad Shahzad is one of those old-school ODI openers. He wouldn’t lead the fitness run before training starts, but he can whack a ball to all parts of the ground.

Shahzad has five ODI hundreds to his name – the last one against India in September – and is the leading run-scorer in his country’s history with 2 619 at a reasonable average of 33.57.

With England’s pitches seemingly batsmen-friendly at the moment, Shahzad will have a full go against the big teams to get Afghanistan off to a flier.

Rahmat Shah will probably be the glue around which the Afghans will build their innings. The 25-year-old batting all-rounder can also turn his arm over with some leg-spin, but he is in a rich vein of form with the willow.

Shah scored 98 and 76 in a Test against Ireland in March, and followed it up with 113 against Scotland earlier this month.

He has the best average (35.90) among the Afghan batsmen, scoring 1 939 runs in 60 ODIs.

Top Two Bowlers: Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman

Leg-spinner Rashid Khan looks and bowls like an experienced 30-year-old, but he is just 20 – and already a world star. Khan is ranked second on the ICC ODI bowler rankings, behind India’s Jasprit Bumrah.

His variations make him difficult to read or line-up for a big hit, and his skill has seen him become a favourite in T20 cricket as well – he played for the Durban Heat in the Mzansi Super League too.

After making his ODI debut as a 17-year-old in 2015, Khan is already the leading wicket-taker for Afghanistan with 125 in 58 matches, at an incredible average of 15.08.

His batting isn’t too bad either, with four half-centuries and an average of 23.47.

Rahman is yet another spinner, but bowls more off-breaks, mixing it up as well. He is even younger than Khan at 18, and has already made a big impact in the international arena.

He has taken 51 ODI wickets at an average of 19.49, and with an excellent economy rate of 3.73, he will look to put the squeeze on some of the bigger teams who may not be familiar with him.

Captain: Gulbadin Naib

He is a surprise skipper, taking over from regular captain Asghar Afghan by the Afghanistan board and selectors without consulting coach Phil Simmons.

Seniors such as Khan and Shahzad were not too pleased with the sudden change initially.

Naib is a batting all-rounder, but his stats are not eye-catching with the bat or ball – 22.35 with the bat after 54 ODIs, and 33.56 with the ball.

At 28, his appointment as the leader is strange, but he will hope for a miracle from his stars to make an impact at the tournament.

Semi-Final Chances:

Not only did Afghanistan qualify for the World Cup ahead of Zimbabwe, Ireland and Scotland, but they actually beat the West Indies twice in the qualifiers – in the round-robin and final.

Since 2014, they’ve beaten Bangladesh thrice, Sri Lanka once and the West Indies on three occasions in ODI cricket.

So, while their spin trio of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi will be a handful, even in England, their batting is probably not strong enough to handle the bowling attacks of South Africa, Australia and Pakistan.

But they are capable of pulling off a few upsets. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the West Indies: beware the Afghans!

Afghanistan Group Matches

1 June (2.30pm): Australia, Bristol

4 June (11.30am): Sri Lanka, Cardiff

8 June (2.30pm): New Zealand, Taunton

15 June (2.30pm): South Africa, Cardiff

18 June (11.30am): England, Manchester

22 June (11.30am): India, Southampton

24 June (11.30am): Bangladesh, Southampton

29 June (11.30am): Pakistan, Leeds

4 July (11.30am): West Indies, Leeds

@ashfakmohamed

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