While most teams aim for stability and unity before a major event like the World Cup, Afghanistan stunned one and all by changing the leadership structure, much to the chagrin of its supporters and even senior team members.
Just two months before the showpiece event, the Afghanistan Cricket Board removed Asghar Afghan as captain from all three formats and named Gulbadin Naib as the ODI leader.
Afghan stars Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan castigated the board for the untimely decision, terming it “biased and irresponsible”.
On the field, they showed great fight during the Asia Cup in the UAE late last year, thrashing Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and tying a game with India.
They had to qualify for the showpiece event alongside West Indies and are consistently seen as one of the more dangerous outfits in white-ball cricket because of the fearless brand of cricket they play.
If the pitches are even remotely flat or dry, the Afghans will be right in it. Defeating Pakistan in their opening World Cup warm-up match underlined the serious threat they pose in the tournament.
Record: 1 win out of 6 games at 2015 World Cup.
Squad: Gulbadin Naib (c), Mohammad Shahzad, Noor Ali Zadran, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Afghan, Hazratullah Zazai, Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shinwari, Hamid Hassan, Rashid Khan, Aftab Alam, Dawlat Zadran
Strength: The core of the team – Shahzad, Nabi, Afghan, Zadrans – have been together through thick and thin and have personally taken the team from the depths of associate level cricket to Test level. It’s a team that is arguably the most well-knit outfit in the tournament, even with the forced leadership changes.
Weakness: The leadership bombshell might not affect the bonhomie in the side but can definitely affect the team plans as someone like Naib, who was not even in the picture, will be facing the heat in England. A self-inflicted wound which Afghanistan could have avoided by making any changes after the World Cup.
Player to watch: Rashid Khan is the player who can do it all – bowl tight overs, pick up wickets and hit some lusty blows in the death overs. if Rashid is on top of his game, Afghanistan will always be in the game as he can get a clutch of wickets on any surface.
Surprise package: Veteran fast bowler Hamid Hasan is back in the ODI side after a gap of three years. Once the leading pacer of the team, the 31-year-old had faded away but is now back in the scheme of things. With a decade of international experience under his belt, he brings a lot to the table.
Prediction: League phase
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