Asia Cup: How Afghanistan Became Force To Reckon With In T20Is

BENGALURU | Updated: 31 August, 2022 6:16 pm IST

Afghanistan caused a mini stir when they thumped Bangladesh by seven wickets on Tuesday and became the first team in the Asia Cup to qualify for the Super Four round. They (Afghanistan) had also annihilated Sri Lanka by wickets in their first match of the tournament. Though Afghanistan have been doing decently well, especially in the T20Is, in the last few years, only a few people believed that they would humble two strong Asian teams in consecutive matches.

Since January 2020, they have won 15 out of the 23 T20Is they have played. This is a sterling record but it must be pointed out that most of these victories came against weak oppositions such as Zimbabwe and Ireland. They also managed to beat West Indies in a T20I series and drew one against Bangladesh.

Even in earlier Asia Cup editions, Afghanistan came close to pulling off upsets against strong teams such as Pakistan and India but their inexperience got the better of them. However, pummelling Bangladesh and Sri Lanka is certainly a gigantic leap for them and no team in the world can afford to be blasé against them.

Till a couple of years ago, only Rashid Khan and captain Mohammad Nabi were the consistent performers for Afghanistan but now a host of gifted cricketers have emerged from this country which is torn asunder by internal conflict.

The New Indian looks at their five cricketers who are making waves with their sparkling performances and earning rich laurels for the team

1) Mujeeb Ur Rahman: The 21-year-old Mujeeb was earmarked as a prodigy when he was playing his trade in junior cricket. In the last few years, the crafty has made giant strides in international cricket and has become arguably Afghanistan’s best bowler in the T20Is. His sensational rise has ensured that his team’s bowling attack isn’t wholly dependent on Rashid Khan.

On Sunday, Mujeeb opened the bowling and winkled out Bangladesh’s top three batsmen – Mohammad Naim, Anamul Haque and Shakib-Al-Hasan – in his first spell. His biggest strength is his unerring accuracy as he relentlessly aims three stumps. He is quick through the air and varies his pace adroitly which makes it difficult for batsmen to use their feet against him. Since 2020, he has snapped up 23 wickets in only 14 T20Is at a strike rate of 13.

2) Fazalhaq Farooqi: The left-arm seamer made his T20I debut for Afghanistan in 2021 and since then has become an important member of the team. Traditionally, Afghanistan have relied on their spinners as no seamer delivered the goods for them. Farooqi has aptly filled that vacuum. He not only can make the new ball swing prodigiously but is also incredibly economical.

His delivery to remove Sri Lankan batsman Charith Asalanka, a snappy nip-backer which trapped him in front of stumps, is perhaps the best ball of the tournament as yet. The fact that his economy rate in T20Is is an astonishing 5.76 speaks volumes about his capability to tie batsmen down.

3) Najibullah Zadran: The 29-year-old has been around for a while now but started hitting his stride only in the last few years. Since 2020, he has scored 614 runs in the T20Is – the highest by an Afghanistan batsman – at an average of 41. Not only is he consistent but also cracks runs at a breakneck pace which makes him an outstanding T20 batsman.

In the match against Bangladesh, Afghanistan needed 68 runs in the last 7 overs and were in a spot of bother but Najibullah made light of the chase by blasting an unbeaten 43 off just 17 balls. His rollicking innings included 5 colossal sixes. At present, he’s the linchpin of Afghanistan’s batting.

4) Rahmanullah Gurbaz: the wicketkeeper-batsman might not be as consistent as Najibullah but is a supremely impactful player. His contribution as an opener has been instrumental in Afghanistan’s rise in the T20I format.

Since 2020, he has been Afghanistan’s second-highest scorer in this format after Najibullah. He gave a glimpse of his whirlwind talent in the Asia Cup match against Sri Lanka by walloping 18-ball 40.

5) Rashid Khan: The wily spinner is undoubtedly the biggest cricketing star Afghanistan have produced till now. He continues to be a vital cog of the team and groom youngsters.

His own performances have been excellent for many years now and opposition batsmen mostly try to play him out rather than giving away their wickets to him. Despite that, he has been Afghanistan’s highest wicket-taker in the T20Is (31) since 2020 and is a tangible threat to any team.

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