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Will Afghanistan Spring A World Cup Surprise?

Afghanistan will make their second appearance at the Cricket World Cup after earning their spot through the qualifiers last year.

Their hopes of reaching the tournament in England hinged on a crucial showdown against Ireland in a playoff contest. A fine performance from Rashid Khan with the ball and an innings of 54 from Mohammad Shahzad guided them to a comfortable five-wicket triumph in Harare.

Afghanistan then defeated the West Indies in the final, although both sides had already secured their spots in the World Cup. However, their triumph proved that they are more than capable of handing out one or two surprise results in the tournament as proven by their win over Pakistan in their warm-up match.

We’ll now breakdown their key players and whether they will be able to mount a challenge to finish in the top four to secure a semi-final berth.

Can Afghanistan make an impact?

Squad

Gulbadin Naib (captain), Mohammad Shahzad, 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, Mujeeb Ur Rahman.

Overview

Afghanistan proved their worth by battling their way through the qualifiers, beating the West Indies twice in the process. When they were put under pressure of having to beat Ireland they rose to the occasion to see off their rivals to clinch their place in the 2019 World Cup.

Their first experience of the tournament was a fleeting one. In their six matches in the group stage, they mustered only one victory which came against Scotland in Dunedin by one wicket. Other than that Afghanistan were on the receiving end of heavy defeats. An improvement against the elite teams in the competition is required this time around to avoid finishing bottom of the standings.

The country’s hierarchy made the bold decision to replace Asghar Afghan as captain ahead of the tournament. Gulbadin Naib will lead Afghanistan in England, although he has still insisted that he considers Afghan the captain of the team.

The 28-year-old impressed with the ball against Ireland in his side’s warm-up match, claiming figures of 6-43. He will have to be a strong leader on the field and be able to ease the pressure on his key players to ensure that his team have a successful tournament. Afghanistan are a team in progress, but will be looking to take a scalp on the way this summer.

Key Men

Khan holds the key for Afghanistan

Rashid Khan – Khan is the superstar of Afghani cricket. He has proved his quality at international level in 50-over and 20-over formats as well as impressing in the Indian Premier League and Natwest T20 Blast. The leg-spinner will be the key cog for Naib’s men in the competition as a wicket-taking option in the middle overs.

Khan has to be able to strike with regularity to keep runs off the board. Afghanistan are not blessed with the strongest of batting line-ups therefore a lot of the pressure will be on Khan and his team-mates to ease the burden.

His experience in the IPL and in the T20 Blast in England will stand him in good stead. Khan has played many matches against the elite batsmen in world cricket, boasting outstanding statistics across the board. The 20-year-old has taken 125 wickets in his 59 ODI matches.

He does arrive in England in form, having taken 17 wickets in his 15 IPL games for Sunrisers Hyderabad in their 2019 campaign. Khan can continue to enhance his reputation by producing a number of good performances for Afghanistan in England. At odds of +2000 with Bet365 to be the top bowler in the competition he does represent good value.

Mohammad ShahzadShahzad played the crucial knock in securing Afghanistan’s place at the World Cup last year when he notched 54 runs against Ireland. Chasing 210, Afghanistan were in need of a solid innings at the top of the order to get them off to a good start.

Shahzad responded by blasting a half-century in a stand of 86 with Naib for the first wicket. He scored 54 in just 50 balls, including six boundaries and two sixes.

The 32-year-old provided the impetus for the chase that allowed the rest of the line-up to play naturally to knock off the runs required with five balls to spare. He has since proved that he can thrive in English conditions, scoring a century against Ireland in their ODI clash in Belfast.

Shahzad’s experience opening up will be huge for Afghanistan. He does have the quality to score runs at the highest level, although the 32-year-old will be tested by the best bowlers in the world. There will be pressure on him to score he majority of his side’s runs and he will have to rise to the occasion in the middle for Afghanistan to have a chance of making a slight impression.

Prospects

Afghanistan are the team that is most likely to finish bottom of the standings. Quite simply they do not have the quality at their disposal that the other nine teams in the competition boast.

However, it’s not to say that they are not capable of producing a couple of impressive results. Their win over Pakistan showed that if Afghanistan can play matches on their terms a victory or two could be on the cards. Against the true elite teams that may be a stretch.

Australia scored over 400 in their contest in the 2015 World Cup and it could be the same story when they face off against England and India. Without Virat Kohli in the ranks, Afghanistan did tie with India in the Asia Cup last year.

Given the occasion and the importance of every match in the competition, expect the top teams to be unforgiving. Afghanistan are making strides in their bid to be competitive in the major competitions, but the World Cup will be beyond them. Back them at +100   to finish bottom of the standings with Bet365.

Afghanistan
cricket
cricket world cup
Mujeeb Ur Rahman
Rashid Khan

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