Qualified as the ninth team for the 2019 World Cup, we had reasons to believe in Afghanistan. The fastest rising cricket team had their players participating in the IPL, they challenged every side that they played against and also took down Pakistan in the warm-up. Afghanistan were not expected to enter the knockouts but were expected to take down two-three major nations.
However, no such events transpired. The winless team finished at the last place in the group stage. They did come close against India and Pakistan but failed to clinch the important moments. There were very few moments to celebrate for the Afghans. Let’s take a brief look at their World Cup journey.
What went wrong?
Almost everything. The selectors decided to make Gulbadin Naib the captain just before the World Cup. Their most explosive batsman, Mohammad Shahzad, was sent back under an injury pretence. The other star opener, Hazratullah Zazai also had a miserable tournament and was dropped midway. Pace bowler Aftab Alam was sent home for disciplinary issues.
Even Afghanistan’s best department, bowling, failed to make an impression. Rashid Khan was the biggest disappointment. The legspinner registered the worst bowling figures in the World Cup against England (0/110 in nine overs). He finished with only six wickets in eight innings. Hamid Hassan’s spirited inclusion also did not bode well for Afghanistan.
What went well?
Not much. The tournament established Rahmat Shah as Afghanistan’s best batsman. The right-hander scored 254 runs in nine matches at an average 28 with one half-century. Najibullah Zadran with 230 runs in eight matches finished as the second-highest run-getter. Mujeeb Ur Rehman’s comeback after being dropped was also inspiring. The mystery spinner troubled India, Bangladesh and Pakistan on his team return. Young Ikram Alikhil was another positive for Afghanistan.
Find of the tournament
Shahzad was sent back from the tournament and it was 18-year old Ikram Alikhil who replaced him. The wicketkeeper batted at number nine in the initial matches. He was soon promoted to the top and the move worked wonders. In Afghanistan’s final match of the tournament, Ikram scored a brave 86 in the chase of 312 against West Indies. He became the third-youngest player in a World Cup to make a fifty.
Areas for improvement
Afghanistan’s batting unit is still a work in progress. Captain Gulbadin opened the innings in the absence of the regular batsmen but he was just a stop-gap arrangement. They will need to groom batsmen who can compliment their splendid bowling attack on helpful tracks. Frequent fixtures against top nations will also help Afghanistan in combating the high-pressure situations. The side also needs to decide their pace spearhead, there seems to be a lot of confusion as of now.