Asia Cup 2018: Afghanistan's old-school ODI approach paying dividends in the UAE

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Afghanistan are emerging as the dark horses for the Asia Cup.

Before the start of the Asia Cup, Afghanistan’s aptly named skipper Asghar Afghan had warned that his men were not coming to the UAE to simply make up the numbers.

“We are not here just to play but to perform. Our players have got enough experience playing big international matches. They have performed well in leading cricket leagues so we are hopeful of doing well in this tournament as well,” the 30-year-old had told ANI News ahead of the tournament.

Despite falling to a last-gasp defeat against Pakistan in their Super Four campaign opener on Friday at Abu Dhabi, Afghan’s pre-tournament warning very much holds true.

The rapidly rising stars of international cricket had a lot to prove in the tournament given the fact that they failed to qualify for the 2016 edition.  With the likes of Rashid Khan and Mujeeb-Ur-Rahman proving their mettle in T20 leagues around the globe in recent times, the Afghans had a lot going for them coming into the continental showpiece.

In the three matches Afghanistan have played so far in the Asia Cup, they have displayed a brand cricket which has been a throwback to the ODI cricket of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Asghar Afghan and his men have batted first in each of three matches they have played in the tournament.  Their three games have all taken place at the Sheikh Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi and the Afghans have used their experience of playing in UAE conditions previously to the hilt.

Starting slow and steady at the top of the innings, Afghanistan’s batsmen have looked to build solid partnerships for the large part before going full throttle in the death overs.

While Mohammad Shahzad, Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi have looked to consolidate at the top, the likes of Afghan and even Rashid Khan have looked to press on the accelerator in the latter stages.

The likes of Hashmatullah Shahidi have looked to build at the top.

The likes of Hashmatullah Shahidi have looked to build at the top.

Relying more on quick running between the wickets than the big shots, Afghanistan have managed to put up nearly identical scores in each of their three games.

In the first game against Sri Lanka, they posted 249 runs on the board. They followed it up with a 255-7 against Bangladesh before posting 256-7 in their narrow loss to Pakistan.

Once they have got a challenging total under their belt, their world-class array of spinners has done the rest on the slow and dusty track at Abu Dhabi.

Their bowling attack, especially the spinners, has been described as the best in the competition by pundits and even opposition players.

With Rashid Khan, Mujeeb-Ur-Rahman and Mohammad Nabi in tow, the Afghans have managed to tighten the noose around opposition batsmen by drying up the runs. Once the scoreboard pressure starts building, Afghanistan’s slower bowlers have thrived in spectacular fashion.

Sri Lanka were bundled out for 138 while Bangladesh were cleaned up for just 119 runs.

Rashid Khan and Mujeeb have been excellent with the ball.

Rashid Khan and Mujeeb have been excellent with the ball.

The Afghans have a supreme belief that they can defend any challenging total and the loss to Pakistan has been the only aberration in that regard. They have devised a perfect winning formula for UAE conditions and it will be hard for any team to get the better of them as the match against Pakistan just showed.

In the modern-era where going hell for leather from the very go has become standard for all teams in limited-overs cricket, Afghanistan have been a refreshing exception with their old-school approach. Their approach has been in stark contrast to teams like Sri Lanka and even Bangladesh who seem to have no definite game plan to their batting apart from trying to be aggressive from the start

Sri Lanka, in fact, only need to look at Afghanistan’s displays to decipher where they erred in the Asia Cup. Playing to their strengths has been Afghanistan’s modus operandi throughout the tournament and it is one that they could take them far.

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