Cricket World Cup 2019 Team Review: Spirited Afghanistan done in by off-field rhetorics

Afghanistan’s campaign threatened to derail even before the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup began, with Asghar Afghan, the captain who led the team to the World Cup and their first Test captain, being sacked in favour of Gulbadin Naib and senior players Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan openly  opposing the decision. Afghanistan were expected to notch up at least one win; but they drew a blank and while their never-say-never attitude was seen in most of the matches, especially against India and Pakistan, they failed to clinch key moments in the games and with Rashid not enjoying a fruitful campaign, Afghanistan struggled at the big stage.  

World Cup record: Played 9, Won 0, Lost 9 – Last in points table 

High Point

The spirit to fend of a marauding India and actually give the two-time World champions their first real scare of tournament underlined everything that fans love about the Afghanistan team. It is no coincidence that Rashid’s best performance of the tournament also came against India. To lose by just 11 runs, with India coming in to the match with massive wins was a big achievements for the Afghans. Also, the second last game against Pakistan – the last over finish – was one of the thrilling games of the tournament.  ALSO READ: Fitness is a big issue for Afghanistan, boys are struggling: Gulbadin Naib

Low Point

The loss to Sri Lanka – the reason this game is picked as Afghanistan’s low point is because this was one game they would have realistic thought of winning, even before the tournament was underway and after picking up eight wickets for just 53 runs to restrict Sri Lanka to 201, it was their golden opportunity to notch up a win. But, as has been the case with Afghanistan, the batting let the team down, with Najibullah Zardran’s late-order heroics of 43 being the only substantial contribution. ALSO READ: We need good fast-bowlers, admits Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib

Captaincy Verdict

New captain Naib was under pressure coming in to the tournament and even though he gave his best on the field – both with the bat and ball – and even off the field during the post-match pressers to keep his composure, Naib came across as somebody who was struggling to lead from the front. Even though he tried to, opening the batting and even bowling, his on-field decisions left many scratching their heads. Against India and Pakistan, he got the pacers on at crucial junctures in the match despite having the option of going to his spinners. Against Pakistan, it was his over – 48th – that turned the match in Pakistan’s favour. His handling of the off-field issues too left a lot to be desired for. With the bat he averaged 21.55 and with the ball, 46.66. 

Most valuable player

Rahmat Shah – Shah, the newly appointed Test captain was a figure of stability at the top of the order for Afghanistan and 254 runs in nine matches is a proof of that. You would ask why not Nabi – for he picked 10 wickets at 33.50 and had his team nearly home against India – but he was not able to get them over the line and with the bat he was below par, considering his own batting abilities – eventually averaging a meagre 11.88.  

Major disappointment

Rashid Khan – Rashid came in to the World Cup with so much hype, that it eventually fell on to him as the tournament progressed. Rashid mantra has been to bowl quick and generate spin at that velocity that batsman don’t have any time at all, if they don’t pick him off his hand. It works best in T20s in a four-over burst, where he is a beast; And there isn’t much evidence of how well it works in Tests –  because he has not played much of the long format. But, in ODIs, with 10 overs to bowl, Rashid was dismantled with relatively ease owing to this one-dimensional approach. He now is the bowler with the most expensive figures in World Cups and third most expensive in all of ODIs. He finished with just six wickets with a best of 2/17, giving away runs at an economy of 5.79 and an average of 69.33. 

Verdict

With a host of off-field issues, Afghanistan were, uncharacteristically, rattled throughout the tournament and with the lack of leadership evident on the field from Naib, it was a bad decision to sack Asghar Afghan, who was seen marshalling the troops on many occasions throughout the tournament. Spat between coach Phil Simmons and former senior selector Dwalat Ahmadzai, nearly came out in open and Mohammd Shahzad and Aftab Alam’s premature and bizarre departures are proof enough about the cracks in this ‘feel-good’ Afghanistan story. Now, listed among the top teams in the World cup, Afghanistan have a lot of planning to do to sustain their earlier momentum. 

Statistics

Most runs: Rahmat Shah: 254 runs in 9 innings at an average of 28.22 with one fifty to his name

Most wickets: Mohammad Nabi with 10 wickets in 9 innings at an average of 33.50 and economy of 4.61 and best of 4/30

Highest individual score: Ikram Alikhil – 86 vs West Indies at Leeds

Best Bowling Figure: Mohammad Nabi – 4/30 in 9 overs vs Sri Lanka at Cardiff