Afghanistan will be playing its second successive World Cup and looking to improve in the 2015 edition, having won just one of its six group matches.
Head coach Phil Simmons, for whom the World Cup will be his final assignment with Afghanistan, has categorically said that the bowling is the team’s strength. “The strength is going to be the bowling, the strength is still going to be the three spinners (Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi).”
Being a wrist-spinner, Rashid will take the pitch out of the equation and has enough variations in his armoury to fox the best of batsmen. Mujeeb is not quite a wrist-spinner but has the variations (carrom ball, off-spin, topspinner, etc.) to thrive in all conditions. Afghanistan’s spin trio troubled even India in an Asia Cup knockout match, which ended in a tie, last year. Rashid and co. will take confidence from that and other equally good performances in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to the World Cup.
In Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi and former captain Asghar Afghan, Afghanistan has batsmen who can occupy the crease, milk the bowling and complement the stroke-makers in the line-up (Mohammad Shahzad, Hazratullah Zazai, among others). But does Afghanistan have the batting to consistently post totals in excess of 300 or chase down 300-plus scores when the bowlers have a bad day? Coach Simmons says the team’s batting has improved since last year’s World Cup Qualifier tournament in Zimbabwe and he reiterates that the Afghanistan batsmen have understood how to pace the innings and score 290-300 on a consistent basis. Yet, among the three departments, Afghanistan’s batting is its weak link.
With the change in format from the last edition of the tournament, Afghanistan has the opportunity to play each of the top teams in ODI cricket over the league phase. And, while the traditional heavyweights will hog the limelight and feel the pressure to win, Afghanistan can enjoy being part of the big stage. More matches also mean the team has more opportunities to improve on its record from the last edition. West Indies captain Jason Holder has picked Afghanistan as the team he’s “looking forward to playing” and the match-up with the two-time champion will be exciting to watch as well.
As a team featuring in its second World Cup, the focus for Afghanistan will be going out and playing good cricket. Though it has world-class spinners and quality batsmen in the line-up, factoring in too many aspects will kill the enjoyment, which will subsequently reduce Afghanistan chances of getting the better of the opposition on a given day.
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