Qualified for the first time in ODI World Cup history in 2015, played in the 2019 World Cup over Ireland and Zimbabwe, and was one of the 8 teams to directly qualify for the 2023 Cricket World Cup without playing the qualifiers; Afghanistan cricket came a long way in the last decade.
They entered the Asia Cup with high hopes but suffered a big loss in their initial game against Bangladesh. In the second group match, they had a clear chance to win and qualify for the Super 4 but the magical last over from DDS prevented Rashid on strike and Afghanistan was handed a heartbreaking loss by 2 runs.
Apart from the Asia Cup, Afghanistan has played a bilateral series against other top nations of Asia except India this year. They levelled 1-1 against Sri Lanka and defeated the home giants Bangladesh 2-1 on their soil but were defeated 3-0 by Pakistan. So, they played well in the initial ODI matches of this year but were unable to find a win in the last 5 ODIs.
Afghanistan ODI Performance this year
Played: 11 Won:3 Lost:7 No Result: 1
Afghanistan squad for the ODI World Cup 2023: Hashmatullah Shahidi (C), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (WK), Ibrahim Zadran, Riaz Hassan, Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Ikram Alikhil (WK), Azmatullah Omarzai, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Noor Ahmad, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Abdul Rahman, Naveen ul Haq.
Reserves: Gulbadin Naib, Sharafudin Ashraf, Farid Ahmad Malik
Afghanistan retained 13 of the 17 players that took part in the recently concluded Asia Cup. Karim Janat, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Suliman Saifi and Gulbadin Naib (Afghanistan captain in World Cup 2019) were the unlucky ones to miss out.
Azmatullah Omarzai is making a comeback after suffering an injury while the star pacer Naveel ul Haq hasn’t played an ODI in the last 2 years. His bowling average of 25.43 is the best among pacers selected in the squad (second best overall after Rashid Khan) but has played just 7 ODIs in total.
The omission of fast bowling allrounder Gulbadin was a bit surprising as he took 4 wickets in the match against Sri Lanka and also got the wickets of both the openers in the last ODI of 3 match series against Pakistan.
Game Against Right Arm Spin
The record of each Afghanistan batsman can be rated high against spin bowling (especially against right-hand spin). Against the leg spinners, Gurbaz averages 34.67 with a Strike Rate of 88+. This is the worst average for any Afghanistani top 7 batsmen against leg spin and his record of 34.67/88.89 can be considered decent if we compare this with his overall stats. Captain Hashmatullah Shahidi averages 57.25 with a Strike Rate of 135.5 and will be the most important player against New Zealand and Pakistan (games at Lucknow) to counterattack Ish Sodhi and Shadab Khan.
The same is the story for their record against off-spin. Afghans play off spin very well but are a bit slow except for the openers. Gurbaz and Ibrahim strike at a rate of 95.36 and 92.80 against off-spinners.
In the upcoming event, Afghans have undoubtedly the best spin bowling unit among all the participating teams. Rashid Khan (the leader of spin bowling) can fit into any ODI side without a second thought. He would be assisted by Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb ur Rahman in the initial games and Noor Ahmed might make the XI in the middle half of the tournament (in games at Chennai and Lucknow). Since the 2019 World Cup, Afghanistan spinners have had the best economy rate (4.51) among all the participating teams.
Another quality of the Afghanistan spin trio is that they can bowl at each phase of the game. Mujeeb is their main powerplay bowler and leaks run at an economy of below 4 in the initial 10 overs. Rashid and Nabi are their main middle-over bowlers with Rashid also taking the role of death bowler for the team. Rashid has bowled more deliveries in the last 10 overs than any of the Afghan bowlers in the team where he averages 15.3 with an economy of 5.31. Mujeeb at the death is also good (but has a sample of just 350 odd deliveries) with an average of 18.6 and economy just above 5 (5.05 to be precise).
Bowling Record in India
All three main spinners have played a decent number of ODIs in India. Mujeeb has the best performance with an average of 21.16 and an economy well below 4 in 8 games. Rashid has the best average of 21.08 with an economy of 4.35 and has taken 23 wickets in 13 games. In the same 13 games, Nabi has got 11 wickets (high average of 48.81) but has not leaked runs at a higher pace (economy of 4.75).
Naveen ul Haq is the only pacer to play in India but has played just 2 games. But even in his very short sample size, Naveen performed well in Indian conditions. He took 4 wickets averaging 22.5 with an economy of 5.29. His IPL performance and experience would also help him to perform better in the upcoming World Cup.
Inexperience of ODIs against Top teams
Afghanistan are known to be a T20I dominating side but they haven’t made a mark in the ODI format. The reason for this failure is their regular competition against small teams like the Netherlands, Ireland and the West Indies. The last game they played against the SENAI side was way back in CWC 2019.
Despite being in the Super League, Afghanistan has played series against Ireland, Netherlands, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe all across these 4 years. They played only 1 Series against Pakistan just before the Asia Cup and got clean-sweeped against the neighbours. The inexperience of playing against the SENAI nation could be a big hole in their World Cup campaign.
Batting against Sheer Pace
Most of the teams would be coming with fast bowlers who can bowl with extra pace. Mark Wood for England, Mitchell Starc for Australia, Haris Rauf for Pakistan, Lockie Ferguson for New Zealand, and so on. But Afghan batsmen find it very difficult to score runs against them. Gurbaz averages 25.5, Rahmat 18.36, and captain Shahidi and Nabi 22.62 and 10.36 respectively. None of them strikes above 80 against Right Arm Fast bowling. Zadran is the best batsman against Right Arm Fast with numbers of 26/93.52. They have not played Left Arm Fast bowling much, but have struggled in the games they have played.
Even if we consider all types of Pace bowling (Fast, Medium, etc.), none of the batsmen except Ibrahim have a good record against right-arm pace. Zadran and Nabi are decent with averages of 25+ and striking above 90. Against left-arm pace, none of them strikes above 80. So, it would be very tough for Afghanistan to win their initial game against Bangladesh which will be played at Dharamsala.
Comparatively Slow Batting Order
Most of the batters in the middle order of Afghanistan are slow batters. Captain Hashmatullah Shahidi is a prime example of this. His strike rate of 66.93 can be the reason for Afghanistan’s underperformance in the World Cup. Rahmat Shah and Azmatullah Omarzai also strike below 80. None of the top 7 batsmen has a strike rate of 90+.
Openers (both around 85) and Zadran (89.61) are the only decent strikers for Afghanistan. Veteran Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan would have to score runs very fast in the final overs to take Afghanistan to a respectable total.
Even if we look at the bench strength, Riaz Hassan and Ikram Alikhil are very slow batters. Riaz has played just 5 ODIs till now and has scored 120 runs at an average of 30 and a Strike Rate of 62.5. Ikram is no better than him and has scored 238 runs in his 14 games averaging 23.8 with a Strike Rate of just 60.25.
Probable Playing XI
- Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk)
- Ibrahim Zadran
- Rahmat Shah
- Hashmatullah Shahidi(c)
- Nazibullah Zadran
- Azmatullah Omarzai
- Mohammad Nabi
- Rashid Khan
- Mujeeb ur Rahman
- Fazalhaq Farooqi
- Naveen ul Haq
Rahmat Shah and Riaz Hassan will be fighting for a spot. If Rahmat Shah fails Ibrahim Zadran might bat at 3 with Riaz Hassan opening which happened earlier in the Afghanistan-Pakistan series.
Noor Ahmed has been kept secret and hasn’t played cricket for the past 2 series. His numbers in the first 3 games of ODI cricket were not good but the quality he brings as a spinner can be lethal against any batting side. Noor may not play in the starting 11 but his chances of getting a game will increase exponentially on spin-friendly pitches of Chennai, Lucknow (middle of the tournament). He might be replacing Omarzai who is best suited for pace-friendly pitches.
Mujeeb as always might bowl in the powerplay in tandem with Farooqi with Rashid and Nabi taking the role of premium middle-over bowlers. Naveen hasn’t played any ODI for 2 years but his death bowling performance in the IPL has stated his bowling potential. He and Fazalhaq alongside Rashid will be the main death bowlers for Afghanistan and will be the key in deciding their fate in the upcoming World Cup.
Afghanistan would begin their World Cup campaign on 07 October against Bangladesh. They would play at Dharamsala which has a pitch that offers help to fast bowlers and most games are low-scoring. As the quality of Bangladeshi pacers is better than that of Afghanistan (with better players of pace too), the latter would find it difficult to win their first match of the tournament.
For the next 2 matches, Afghanistan will reach the national capital Delhi. They would face India and England in their respective games. As the pitch of Arun Jaitley stadium is good for batting, Afghanistan might fail to register a win in the next 2 matches too. Also, there is something for spinners in this pitch, so if Afghanistan is lucky, they might win any of the two matches and register an upset which they were unable to do in the 2019 World Cup as they lost each of their 9 games.
The highest chances for Afghanistan to win a game would be at Chennai in their 4th and 5th game of the big event. Chennai Pitch is renowned for assisting spinners and with the kind of spin attack Afghanistan possesses, their chances of troubling the Kiwi and Pakistani batsmen are high. Also, the spin game of Afghani batsmen is quite decent so they might not feel that difficulty in facing the likes of Sodhi, Santner and Shadab.
Their next two games will be against Sri Lanka and Netherlands. On the batting paradise of Pune, we might see a tough encounter between Lanka and Afghanistan just like their Asia Cup game. Against Netherlands, Afghanistan would like to achieve a simple win on the spin track of Ekana Stadium, Lucknow.
Just like the initial 3 games, the last two games of the tourney for Afghanistan would be very difficult. On the batting supporting pitch of Wankhede Stadium, Australia can register an easy win against Afghanistan and the same is true for Proteas at Ahmedabad (batting pitch also assisting pacers) in the last group stage game for Afghanistan.
Players To Watch Out For
Due to his IPL experience and the lack of explosive options in the Afghanistan top 4, the role of Rahmanullah Gurbaz alongside his opening partner would be very important. Since the last World Cup, he is the second-highest scorer (958) after Rahmat Shah (1014) for Afghanistan but has a better strike rate by 14 than Rahmat.
He is the best player of Fast bowling in his team and the only player to average 30+ against both types of Pacers (left armers and right armers). Comparatively, he has a low strike rate of 78.37 against Left Arm Pacers but can improve his record in the upcoming World Cup.
Ibrahim Zadran would be a key batter for Afghanistan alongside his opening partner. Zadran has been in sparkling form scoring a 162 against Sri Lanka and a 100 against Bangladesh earlier this year. He has been playing in and around the Asian subcontinent for the past 1 year which would assist him in understanding the Indian conditions better. With 478 runs in 11 matches, he is the highest run-getter for Afghanistan in 2023.
Zadran will be holding the knot of Afghanistan batting in the middle overs and how he handles the spinners will decide Afghanistan’s fate. He would aim to bat deep and take the game into final overs where he can accelerate even more. Ibrahim averages 128 against Leg Spinners and 98 against Off Spinners and by far is the best spin basher in the Afghanistan batting line-up.
Since his debut, he has been the best player for each team he played. Be it Sunrisers Hyderabad or Gujarat Titans in IPL or Afghanistan in the international circuit, he is always amongst the toughest players opponents need to prepare for. In the last 2 IPL seasons, Rashid has helped his side to reach the final both times. His experience on Indian pitches would be very important for Afghanistan in the upcoming big event.
His bowling average of 19.53 is third best for any bowler (after Sandeep Lamichhane and Joel Garner) with at least 100 wickets in ODIs and best among bowlers taking part in this World Cup. Rashid’s batting average is identical to his bowling average and is the only batsman with 100+ SR in the Afghanistan batting line-up. His role would be to score as many quick runs as possible in the last overs. Adding to his all-round performance, he is one of the best fielders in world cricket currently. So, Rashid is a complete package and the most important player for Afghanistan in the Cricket World Cup 2023.
Even as a bowler solely, Rashid is a complete package as he can bowl in every phase of the game. As of now, he has not bowled much in the powerplay but has taken wickets each time he has bowled in that phase. But Khan is Afghanistan’s main bowler whenever it comes to middle overs and his ability to bowl in the death is better than most of the pacers.
So with the most important players section, we finish our article on Afghanistan Squad Analysis for World Cup 2023. Here we discussed their selected squad, strengths in their game, weaknesses that might hamper their chances and also their complete schedule for the upcoming World Cup. We expect Afghanistan to win at least 2 of their 9 games but there is a chance that they can win even more. They might be placed somewhere around 8/9th position in the points table at the end of the World Cup but with the quality of players they have and their record in the T20 format, it would be of no surprise if Afghanistan finished even better in the points table.