Asia Cup 2022: Afghanistan has arrived; Sri Lanka, Bangladesh learn the hard way

Afghanistan goes into the Super 4 stage with the pressure of expectation to reach the final, which it perhaps didn’t have in 2018 - the last time the Asia Cup was played.

The Afghanistan spinners led by Rashid Khan choked Bangladesh during the Asia Cup Group B encounter in Sharjah.

The Afghanistan spinners led by Rashid Khan choked Bangladesh during the Asia Cup Group B encounter in Sharjah. | Photo Credit: AFP

Afghanistan goes into the Super 4 stage with the pressure of expectation to reach the final, which it perhaps didn’t have in 2018 - the last time the Asia Cup was played.

Afghanistan’s margin of victories against Sri Lanka (eight wickets) and Bangladesh (seven wickets) in this Asia Cup have the stamp of such fearless certainty it makes you wonder why it doesn’t always glide past oppositions like this and win major Twenty20 titles more often. 

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Afghanistan goes into the Super 4 stage with the pressure of expectation to reach the final, which it perhaps didn’t have in 2018 - the last time the Asia Cup was played. Gone are the days when you thought only the traditional powerhouses could win the Asia Cup.

Afghanistan’s success in the shortest format can be attributed to the international exposure its players get by participating in T20 leagues across the world. Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, and Mujeeb Ur Rahman are big-ticket names in the Indian Premier League (IPL), Big Bash League (BBL), Pakistan Super League (PSL) and Caribbean Premier League. 

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As many as 27 Afghanistan players had signed up for the inaugural BBL draft, which took place on Sunday. Sydney Sixers picked 18-year-old Afghanistan leg-spinner spinner Izharulhaq Naveed, who will also represent St Kitts & Nevis Patriots in the CPL. Then you have 17-year-old batter Noor Ahmad playing for Welsh Fire in The Hundred, reaffirming the depth and promise held by the country’s T20 reserves.

Rashid, the second-highest wicket-taker in T20s with 475 victims at 17.79 and an economy rate of 6.38, has been the face of Afghanistan’s spellbinding rise. He summed up the influence of T20 leagues: “Since we play a lot of international leagues, it allows us to learn from the best players. We bring that experience to the international team. We share that with the rest of the team. Especially in the batting department, it helps if we play more international leagues.

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Another significant factor is the volume of T20I cricket Afghanistan plays. Its share of international cricket is low, but in the last four years, Afghanistan has played 76 international matches across formats, 33 of which are T20Is. It has won 22, lost 10 and one ended in a tie.

Six years ago, Afghanistan ended its World Twenty20 campaign with a win over eventual champion West Indies, recording its first victory over a Test-playing nation other than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. 

It was a major upset at the time. In 2022, Afghanistan is one of the title contenders at the Asia Cup, which includes three T20 World Cup winning sides. A silverware for Afghanistan here will light up a format with teams in the flux of a power shift that has Afghanistan as one of its nerve centres.

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