Current ICC ODI ranking: 10
Main man: Rashid Khan
Squad: Gulbadin Naib (captain), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 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 and Mujeeb ur Rahman.
Dubai: Afghanistan may be only be making their second appearance in the World Cup, but is already being talked about as one of the dark horses of the tournament. They rank 10th in the ICC ODI ranking table but ranks very high in the spirit to produce shock victories. They have a team which is a mix of youth and experience, and can no longer can be called the babes of international cricket as they have already beaten experienced teams like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and also gave the sub-continent giants India and Pakistan a fright during the 2018 Asia Cup in UAE.
As a team, they have been improving every year and the ICC by honouring them with Test status has further boosted their morale. The verve with they play every game have impressed everyone and are a delight to watch when they take on challenges.
The strength of the Afghanistan team is their fearless approach and they don’t care about the reputation of the opponents and go for the kill. Their attacking batting style is suitable for limited overs cricket. Starting from their opener Mohammad Shahzad and rising star Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, and Najibullah Zadran, they have a batting line-up, which can take on any top bowling side. Pressure never matters to any player and hence can battle their way out of any trouble.
The bowling strength lies in their spin attack and is made up of the renowned Rashid Khan, experienced Mohammad Nabi and young and promising Mujeeb Ur Rahman. Their pace attack have got enhanced with the return of Hamid Hassan. Though he will turn 32 on June 1 when Afghanistan open their World Cup campaign against Australia, he is still as effective. He will be backed by pacers Dawlat Zadran and Aftab Alam.
The Afghanistan selectors, through a surprise decision, removed Asghar Afghan from the captaincy and appointed Gulbadin Naib as the skipper for the World Cup. The change in captaincy can hit the team hard as Naib has no captaincy experience. The sudden change has also created a rift in the team with experienced cricketers Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi expressing their support to former captain Afghan. It will have to be seen whether the team will play with the same spirit that they usually displays in all matches.
Afghanistan’s batting can sometimes be shaky. If opener Shahzad does not give a quick start and Zazai play a good innings, they may find it hard to chase or post a good total. Noor Ali Zadran is a skilled and experienced player but has not been among the runs, often getting out for single digit scores.
This World Cup is the opportunity for Afghanistan to further prove their credibility. It is also an opportunity for the new skipper Naib to prove that he deserved the captaincy. He is a fine batsman and has time and again proved to be a match-winner. Their three finest spinners Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rehman are in huge demand from Twenty20 cricket leagues around the world. This is the chance for them to win acclaim through a World Cup performance.
Afghanistan’s bowling strength is their spinners and as their pacers are quite ordinary. If their spinners and pacers find it difficult to adapt to the English conditions, then it would be easy for all their opponents to handle them. There is also the threat of whether injuries may show its ugly head. Pacer Hamid Hassan is coming back from a heel, knee and thigh injuries. There is also the threat of batsman failing under English conditions as some of them are not experienced on those wickets.