ICC World Cup 2023: Afghanistan’s well-rounded spin quartet - jazzy remix of original classic

Afghanistan’s spin troupe of Rashid, Nabi, Mujeeb and Noor, like the great Indian spin quartet of Prasanna, Venkataraghavan, Chandrasekhar and the late Bedi, has shown that the number of games you play together doesn’t determine your legacy.

Published : Nov 03, 2023 19:34 IST , LUCKNOW - 5 MINS READ

Rashid Khan, Noor Ahmad, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi have combined to form Afghanistan’s versatile and all-weather spin quartet.
Rashid Khan, Noor Ahmad, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi have combined to form Afghanistan’s versatile and all-weather spin quartet. | Photo Credit: PTI/ANI/AP

Rashid Khan, Noor Ahmad, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi have combined to form Afghanistan’s versatile and all-weather spin quartet. | Photo Credit: PTI/ANI/AP

It comes as a shock to many that the great Indian spin quartet - Erapalli Prasanna, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and the late Bishan Singh Bedi – have played just a solitary Test match together. 

In that match, against England in 1967 at Edgbaston, the four spinners combined to pick 19 of the 20 English wickets. But their performance wasn’t enough as India crumbled to a 132-run defeat.

It is evident that a comparison would be instantly labelled blasphemous. But, the spin quartet from Afghanistan – Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Noor Ahmad – has outdone their illustrious predecessors in the earlier regard.

On Friday, against Netherlands, the Afghan ensemble played its third international match together - all three ODIs. The first time it was fielded together was against Sri Lanka in Pallekele, last year.

Despite the idea brimming with potential, the Afghan bowling attack failed to inspire, as it allowed the Lankans to chase down a 314-run target.

But the second time the four Afghan spinners came together, they made sure of securing the win.

Against Pakistan, earlier in this World Cup, the quartet joined hands to strangle the opposition and restrict it to a total within the grasp of Afghanistan’s batters.

On Friday, against a batting side of lesser stature, the Afghan spin band was more overwhelming.

It began with PowerPlay specialist Mujeeb, who removed Dutch opener Wesley Barresi leg-before. Nabi and Noor struck the other blows as the Dutch side sank to a below par 179.

From the 15th over of the Netherlands innings, it was spin all the way. The quartet combined to bowl 39 of the 47 overs, at an economy of 3.37. It was responsible for six wickets despite its lead star Rashid going wicketless. 

Similar, yet not similar

At a cursory look, the spin quartet of the present and the past share a similar structure. Both have three right-arm spinners and one left-armer. There are two off-spinners in both quartets, while they both have a right-arm leg-spinner. 

The similarity though ends there.

The modern itinerant of the quartet is born and brought up in the era of slam-bam T20 cricket, where the priority is often restricting the scoring rate rather than picking wickets. They are also practitioners of a multitude of variations, necessitated by conditions tilted in favour of the batters.

The left-arm spinner of the Indian quartet was Bedi, a man whose bowling action was so pure that, legendary bowler Jim Laker once mentioned that his idea of heaven would be to have Ray Lindwall and Bedi bowling from opposite ends. 

Afghan’s left-arm presence is Noor, the wrist-spinner, whose bowling motion often looks like a mirror image of the whippy, quick-arm action of Rashid.

On top of it, the Afghan spinners are also yet to prove their worth in Test cricket, where their predecessors thrived. 

Versatile abilities

It is rare for a side to field four pace or spin bowlers of the same quality in a lineup. This is due to the instability it could cause to the team’s combination. Afghanistan is blessed in this regard, as Nabi and Rashid are more than capable with the bat, while they also possess the skills of fast-bowling all-rounder Azmatullah Omarzai.

It also helps that Mujeeb is comfortable bowling the opening overs, meaning Afghanistan needs just one pace bowler in the early stages. No spinner has opened the bowling in ODI World Cups in more innings than the right-arm off-spin bowler. Once Mujeeb sets the platform, Nabi and Rashid take over. 

The 38-year-old Nabi, who has been an ever-present presence for Afghanistan, is the most orthodox of the four Afghan spinners.

The off-spinner thrives in his ability to restrict the opposition. Over the last four years, among Afghan bowlers to have taken at least five wickets, nobody has a better economy rate than Nabi’s 4.27.

Rashid, on the other hand, is the primary wicket-taking weapon for Afghanistan. No one has taken more ODI wickets for Afghanistan than Rashid (48).

Noor, 18, is the youngest of the lot. But his performances in this World Cup, where he has five wickets in two matches, and the latest IPL season with Gujarat Titans, show the immense ceiling the wrist spinner possesses.

But Afghanistan has shown that the four-spinner plan is not set in stone. Even after his three-for against Pakistan, Noor was left out against Sri Lanka as the think-tank opted to bring back right-arm pacer Naveen ul Haq in Pune.

Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott, ahead of the Netherlands match, asserted that his team selection is always based on the conditions on offer and the opposition.

With Nabi entering the sunset of his illustrious career, the possibility of the Afghan spin quartet adding another match to its tally, going further past its legendary predecessor, is an unlikely one. 

But as the Indian spin quartet has proven, it is not the number of games you have played together that determine your legacy.

If the Afghan spin troupe can help its side to a historic semifinal berth in the World Cup, which is well within Afghanistan’s reach, history might remember it as modern-day cricket’s very own spin quartet - a jazzy remix of the classic original. 

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