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.
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