Things haven’t gone to plan for Afghanistan so far in the 2019 ICC World Cup and it is not about to get any easier with a clash against hosts and tournament favourites England coming up on Tuesday.
With four losses in as many games, Gulbadin Naib and his men are quickly becoming the whipping boys of the tournament, which had already been criticised no end for including just 10 teams.
Nobody really expected Afghanistan to perform miracles in the World Cup but no one would have predicted how bad they have been so far either. Their rise in international cricket over the past decade has been nothing short of meteoric and they had arrived in England for the tournament as a force to be reckoned with.
Armed with an impressive spin contingent comprising No1 ranked T20 bowler Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb ur Rahman, Afghanistan were expected to give plenty of big teams a run for their money in England.
However, it has been a campaign of woes for the Afghans, with the tournament minnows being comfortably dispatched in each of their four losses. The theme that has been common through all is their inability to hold their own with the bat.
Their batting, quite simply, has been shown up big time on the English pitches. They did put up 201 runs on the board in their campaign opener against Australia but the batting has progressively got worse since.
Their totals in the three subsequent games have been 152, 172 and 125 against Sri Lanka, New Zealand and South Africa respectively. The batting effort against Sri Lanka was particularly shoddy given that the team was chasing an attainable target of just 202 runs.
Their showing with the bat in England is in stark contrast to their 2018 Asia Cup displays in the UAE, where they regularly managed 250-plus totals against the likes of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Only one batsman – Najibullah Zadran – has managed to register a half-century so far in the World Cup and even he was then inexplicably dropped for the loss to South Africa.
There is no doubt that Afghanistan’s strength lies in its spin contingent but the batsmen have simply not given the bowlers any runs to work with. It is one of the reasons opposition batsmen have been content to see out Rashid Khan’s spell without taking too many risks and it’s resulted in the star leg-spinner picking up just three wickets so far.
Their woes have not been restricted to the field, with plenty of controversies arising outside of it as well. Their World Cup campaign had been thrown into chaos even before it began with Asghar Afghan replaced by Naib as ODI skipper just days before the start of the tournament.
That move by the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) was met with resentment from key players such as Rashid and Nabi and that is never a good thing while going into a big tournament such as the World Cup.
Another controversy followed when Afghanistan’s highest ODI run-getter Mohammad Shahzad was sent home due to a knee injury. The veteran wicket-keeper has since gone on to claim to the Afghan media that he was sent home unfairly by the ACB with his injury not being that serious.
Whether Shahzad’s claims hold true remain to be seen, but it is clear that things aren’t so rosy behind the scenes for Afghanistan at this moment. Their World Cup campaign is in danger of being completely derailed and they will need to show some fight with the bat if they are to still salvage it.
They have a chance to prove how far they have come in such a short span of time but time is running out fast.
The tournament hosts and world number ones are rampant favourites on paper, with Afghanistan bottom of the standings after four defeats in four games.
But Gulbadin found some reason for cheer when watching India’s defeat of Pakistan on Sunday, which took place on the same surface and gave some encouragement for the rival spinners.
Afghanistan’s game plan is built around their star leg-spinner Rashid Khan, backed up by Mohammad Nabi and Rahmat Shah.
“We are looking for the spin, every game,” Gulbadin said on the eve of the match.
“If the wicket is like the one India and Pakistan played on, which slightly turned, with this kind of turn maybe every team is in trouble against Afghanistan.
“Not only England or others. If there is a little bit of spin there, maybe it’s a good day for Afghanistan.”
Star man Rashid is the top wicket-taker in one-day cricket in the four years since the last World Cup but has yet to impose himself on this competition, taking just three wickets at 38.
His record suggests a big performance is just around the corner and Gulbadin needs no reminding of his qualities.
“Rashid is not like other bowlers who bowl normally, he’s an attacking bowler,” said the all-rounder.
“Every time he’s attacking. But one thing that’s bad is the surfaces have not suited him. If they slightly turned, you’ll find Rashid is a key bowler and he’s also key for the success of Afghanistan.”
Gulbadin regards Jason Roy’s enforced absence from the game as a positive omen, following the Surrey man’s 89 not out in 46 balls in a pre-tournament warm-up between the sides.
“It’s good luck for us Jason Roy is not playing. Roy is one of the best players now in the world now,” he said.
“The last two years, he has been world class.”
Provided by Press Association Sports
It’s a battle between teams at opposite ends of the table as the Cricket World Cup hosts and favourites England lock horns with minnows Afghanistan at Old Trafford.
Eoin Morgan’s men are on song, having inflicted defeats on Bangladesh and West Indies in their last two games.
On the other hand, Afghanistan are still in search of their first win of the tournament, having suffered defeats against Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and most recently South Africa.
We take a look at the talking points ahead of the David v Goliath clash.
Conservative approach by England?
England are in a strong position after winning three of their first four games. But the hosts can’t afford to take their foot off the gas. After facing Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, they will have to test themselves against Australia, India and New Zealand in the span of nine days.
England will be hoping the injured Jason Roy and Morgan will be back to 100 per cent before they endure a tough run against the teams currently in the top three.
It will be interesting to see whether the hosts power through Afghanistan like they have been doing so far or adopt a conservative approach, reducing the risk of injuries in the process by resting key players. The tournament minnows have been woeful with the bat and this could be a risk worth taking.
Rashid Khan’s time to deliver
Afghan spinner Rashid Khan has failed to live up to the high standards he has set for himself. The 20-year-old has claimed just three wickets in the World Cup. To be fair to the youngster, he was injured in Afghanistan’s defeat to New Zealand and was hence unable to bowl in that game.
The long boundaries at Old Trafford could assist Rashid in his quest to produce a stand-out performance at the World Cup. With the English batting line-up slightly compromised due to the absence of Roy and with Morgan, the spinner could profit.
Will Rashid be the unlikely hero in this lop-sided clash?
The Archer express to run through Afghanistan
The new ball in the hands of Jofra Archer is lethal, more so when the conditions are overcast and the batting line-up is yet to play out a full quota of 50 overs four games into the tournament.
A top-five leading wicket-taker at this World Cup, the Caribbean-born is fresh from a sensational performance against West Indies. The 24-year-old claimed three wickets in that game and was on a hat-trick at one point when he was cleaning up the tail.
Afghanistan must beware of his trademark short-pitched delivery right outside the off-stump and leaning towards the batsman. It’s logical to expect a bowler in good form to put on quite a show against the weakest batting line-up in the tournament. But if Afghanistan are not careful, it could get very embarrassing. A resilient show from Hazratullah Zarai and Noor Ali is the need of the hour.