Asghar Stanikzai (left) and Mohammad Shahzad has done an impressive job for Afghanistan in 2016    Getty Images
Asghar Stanikzai (left) and Mohammad Shahzad has done an impressive job for Afghanistan in 2016 Getty Images

2016 has to be the best year for Afghanistan Cricket Team. After years of hard work and impressive performances, the talks for awarding them the Test status have already begun and going by reports, Afghanistan may play their maiden Test in 2019. They are also expected get the First-Class status for their domestic tournament soon as Ireland have already got it. Afghanistan have also got the backing of BCCI and got the Greater Noida Stadium as their home ground, which recently got approval to host international matches. The team is currently being nourished under the coaching of Lalchand Rajput, who took this role from July this year.

Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) continued their faith in Asghar Stanikzai s leadership in 2016 as well. Stanikzai is only the third permanent captain of Afghanistan team after Mohammad Nabi and Nawroz Mangal, which is a good number considering they are new to international cricket.. Credit for the same goes to ACB for giving healthy run to their captains and putting their faith in them, in order to find the apt combination and consistency. Coming back to their performances in 2016, the year started with a bang for Afghanistan as they beat Zimbabwe in a One-Day series by 3-2, followed by a T20I-series-win. The series was filled with some mixed performances, by batsmen and bowlers.

Further, they moved on to play in Asia Cup 2016, which was in T20 format this time. Afghanistan were in the qualifying group and to reach the next level of the tournament, they had to win all three games. But that did not happen as they lost their first match against UAE, followed by two consecutive wins. It was a big disappointment for them, but they did not fail to impress in qualifying round of World T20 2016.

Afghanistan thrashed Zimbabwe, who have been in international cricket since 1983, there as well They won all three of their games in the qualifying round to reach the next stage of the tournament. In the Super 10 stage of the tournament, they had to play against the big teams like Sri Lanka, England, South Africa and West Indies.

Afghanistan showed their fighting character against Sri Lanka but poor fielding ensured they ended on the losing side. The Afghans continued the same way in the second game as well and it was an excellent show by Mohammad Shahzad against South Africa, when he plundered 22 of the second over of the match off Kyle Abbott s bowling. That knock included 3 big sixes and a four. Shahzad s batting brought fear in the Protea camp as in their previous game, they lost the game against England after setting a huge target of 230. Completely honest, yes I felt like that (D j vu of the England game?), said du Plessis after that match.

Shahzad s blistering batting was the only fighting knock from Afghanistan s side. He scored 44 off just 19 balls. In their next game against England, the Afghans perhaps choked. From 6 wickets down for 57, England managed to bounce back in the game by setting the target of 143 and winning the contest by 15 runs.

Their last game in the tournament was to be played against the mighty West Indies team. Unlike their previous matches, Afghanistan bettered themselves against the best team of the tournament by beating the Caribbean side in a thrilling contest by 6 runs. Despite three defeats in the Super 10 stage, Afghanistan ended their World T20 journey on a high by becoming the only team to beat eventual champions West Indies in the tournament.

The World T20 highlighted the part where Afghanistan were lacking the most and that is performing in crunch situations. Yes, they improvised themselves in their final clash against the Caribbean side but had they done that a match before, they could have made history by entering the semis.

Learning from their mistakes in World T20, Afghanistan carried on improving by winning an ODI series against Scotland by 1-0, followed by a 2-2 draw against Ireland. The series against Ireland saw them performing as a team. This time, they looked as a unit instead of bunch of 3-4 performers from the team.

During the series against Ireland, Mohammad Nabi was condemned for running out Ed Joyce while chasing the ball when it had crossed the ropes. This was the only unsporting behaviour by them in this year.

With the start of 2016-17 season, Afghanistan went to Bangladesh for an ODI series. Playing a bilateral series in Bangladesh was a quite big feat for them as the series was played against a full member side. It was also their first bilateral series against a full member side. However, they lost the series by 1-2. The series defeat highlighted the poor batting and lack of wicket taking abilities by their bowlers in crunch situations. It was also an eye-opener for them, which was much needed.

After that, the next big thing to happen to Afghanistan cricket was the opportunity for their players to play in Bangladesh Premier League (BPL). Rashid Khan, Shahzad and Nabi were the players who got to play in the tournament alongside many other international cricketers.

Apart from ODIs and T20Is, Afghanistan also played an unofficial Test against England Lions. They lost the game by 48 runs while chasing 217. Despite loss, Rashid Khan emerged as an excellent spinner for them by taking 12 for 122 and scoring 77. This one unofficial Test threw light on many areas for improvement for the Afghanistan side but they have still got two more years to refine themselves as a Test team.

They played their last series of the year against UAE, which was of three T20Is, and did excellently well by registering their first whitewash win in a series of three matches in any format. Afghanistan outplayed UAE in every segment of the game,be it bowling, batting or fielding. And again, it was a collective job by the side.

Overall, Afghanistan played 27 games in limited-overs format in the entire year. They won 16 out of them and lost 10. Their win/loss ratio of 1.6 in 2016 is the joint third-best among all teams in limited-overs format.

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Going by the w/l ratio, Afghanistan stand in top five teams of 2016 but they did not play against big teams in ODIs. And this is the department where they need to work. Yes, there will be defeats coming their way by playing against the big teams regularly but in the process, they will grow rapidly.

Unlike other bottom-placed teams in international cricket, Afghanistan are not known to fill in numbers in ICC tournaments or to create upsets. Infact, they are probably the fastest improving team among all the new nations which have recently joined international cricket. They not just create upsets in tournaments like World Cups, but they create fear amongst their opponents, irrespective of the opposing team s reputation.

Besides impactful performances throughout the year, they have managed to produce some pacers who can bowl at good pace of above 140 kph and a quality spinner like Rashid. They have all the ingredients to become a world-class team in ODIs but for that, they have to work hard on their fielding skills, which has been the biggest worrying factor for them so far.

They should also try play at least one unofficial Test in every series. In this way, they will be much better side and ready to compete against top teams by 2019, if the news of becoming Test team gets confirmed.

It is a fact that expecting them to perform like a world-class team in next two years is too much to ask for from a team which has been the regular victim of terrorism. But with the support of India and their own fighting spirit, the Blue Tigers may place themselves among top 8 teams in rankings in limited-overs format in the coming year.