Asia Cup 2018: Afghanistan likely XI, predictions and SWOT analysis
Afghanistan will enter the Asia Cup as underdogs. (Getty Images)

Playing just their second Asia Cup, Afghanistan enter the tournaments as underdogs. Led by Asghar Afghan, they are coming off a series win over Ireland in a three-match series where their performance has spoken volumes of their continued rise in world cricket. Despite a misfiring batting line-up, Afghanistan have the bowlers to win them matches. They have affected surprising results in the past and are very much capable of pulling it off again.

Placed in Group B, Afghanistan are pooled alongside Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, whom they face on the 17th and 20th respectively. The top two teams from each group will enter the Super Four, from which the final two will meet in Dubai for the final on September 28.

Here’s a look at Afghanistan’s strengths and weaknesses ahead of the Asia Cup.

Squad make-up:

Batsmen: Ihsanullah Janat, Asghar Afghan, Hashmatullah Shahidi

Allrounders: Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Samiullah Shenwari

Wicketkeepers: Mohammad Shahzad, Munir Ahmad

Fast bowlers: Aftab Alam, Sayed Shirzad, Wafadar

Spinners: Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Sharafuddin Ashraf

Strength: Spinners form an integral part of Afghanistan of their bowling, but the reliance is more on their pacers. Despite the absence of Dawlat Zadran, Afghanistan will not feel any kind of void in their fast bowling department due to the emergence of some promising youngsters. Taking over as the leader of the bowling attack, Aftab Alam has done reasonably well. Against Ireland, he took five wickets in three matches. Wafadar, another addition, played in Afghanistan’s inaugural Test against India and was rewarded for his impressive outing with his maiden call. In Zadran’s absence, he can be a vital supporting role to Alam. Couple that with the spin trio of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Sharafuddin Ashraf and Afghanistan have all the ingredients needed to form a formidable bowling unit.

Weakness: Afghanistan’s biggest chink in the armour remains their inconsistent batting. Their last three defeats have come when the team has failed to score 200. In such a scenario, the onus lies on skipper Asghar Afghan to lead from the front. Najibullah Zadran’s exploits in the shorter formats has fetched him contracts in the IPL and possesses eight ODI half-centuries. His growing reputation of a finisher is something Afghanistan would count on. Then obviously, there is the big-hitting Mohammad Shahzad at the top of the order, hoping to bury the nightmare of the Ireland series where he scored two runs in three matches. Batsmen, it’s time to pull up your socks.

X-Factor: There is a reason why Rashid Kahn is the World’s No. 2 bowler in ODIs. Since becoming the quickest to 100 wickets in the format against West Indies, the 20-year-old’s career continues to be an upward curve. One of Afghanistan’s premier reasons behind Afghanistan’s 2-1 win over Ireland was Rashid, where he picked up seven wickets in three matches. Prior to that, Rashid had 14 wickets to show in the ICC World Cup Qualifiers. To kick off the year, Rashid scalped 16 wickets in Afghanistan’s 4-1 win over Zimbabwe. Expect him to be a threat on the dry surfaces of the UAE.

Fixtures:

September 17 v Sri Lanka, Abu Dhabi (5pm IST)

September 20 v Bangladesh, Abu Dhabi (5pm IST)

Likely XI: 1. Mohammad Shahzad, 2. Javed Ahmadi, 3. Asghar Afghan(c), 4. Mohammad Nabi, 5. Samiullah Shenwari, 6. Munir Ahmad (WK), 7. Najibullah Zadran, 8. Gulbadin Naib, 9. Rashid Khan, 10. Aftab Alam, 11. Wafadar

Head-to-Head: Afghanistan have a 0-1 record against Sri Lanka while their only Asia Cup win came against Bangladesh by 32 runs in 2014.

Prediction: The growth of Afghanistan in world cricket has been a well-documented one. They enter the tournament as the 10th-ranked ODI team in the world. The path that lies ahead is challenging but if there’s one thing they are known for is to give a fight. They have beaten Bangladesh in the past and there is no reason why they can’t pin them again. On match form, the team is equally capable of pulling off a win against Sri Lanka. If they make it past the group stage, the real obstacle will arrive in the form of India and Pakistan. But still, as always, expect some inspiring performances from them. The possibility of a quarter-final finish should not be ruled out.