The ICC Men’s ODI World Cup is set to commence on October 5, 2023. The mega event will return to India for the first time since 2011. In a format where every single team will play the other nine, some big upsets will always be on the cards.
Playing at home, India would certainly enter the tournament as favourites. How the likes of Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa perform in Indian conditions would be an exciting watch. Sides like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will also fancy their chances to taste some success in the tournament, keeping in mind that the Indian conditions will suit them.
With all the talk around these teams, one probably forgets about a team like Afghanistan. Although they won’t begin as favourites, they are more than capable of pulling off some spectacular heists in their campaign.
One of the biggest reasons behind Afghanistan’s potential ability to shock some of the favourites is their experience of playing in India in the Indian Premier League.
The history of Afghanistan cricketers getting an opportunity to play in the IPL traces back to 2017. It was then that Mohammad Nabi became the first player from the country to be a part of the IPL. Later at the same auction, his fellow Afghan, Rashid Khan, was also bought by Sunrisers Hyderabad.
The two made history by becoming the first pair from their nation to play with and compete against the best in the world in the IPL. They also pioneered the popularization and growth of Afghanistan cricket.
Today, the likes of Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Naveen-ul-Haq, Noor Ahmad, Fazalhaq Farooqi, and Mujeeb Ur Rahman are also amongst those from the country to have participated in the league. Each one of them has made significant contributions to their team’s success.
In what was a season where his side’s batting hardly clicked as a unit, Gurbaz played some gritty knocks throughout the season for Kolkata Knight Riders. On pitches where others tumbled, he stood and fought. Naveen was in the news for his on-field verbal spat with Virat Kohli.
However, the aggressive pacer was splendid on tracks that suited his bowling. His ability to bowl the slow cutters into the pitch helped the Lucknow Super Giants big time in home games. Noor, on most occasions, bowled in tandem with Rashid. His control and fearlessness in just his first season in the league were mighty impressive. Fazalhaq played just four games, but he bowled some excellent opening spells in the powerplay. He took about 18% of all the wickets Sunrisers Hyderabad took in a season where nothing looked to go their way.
Apart from polishing their skills and improving the quality of their cricket, the IPL has also given these players the experience of playing under pressure with thousands of eyes on them. Moreover, the knowledge that these players possess with regard to how teams strategize and plan to play in different parts of India will come in really handy or Afghanistan.
The pitches in India are also known to assist spinners, which should be music to Afghanistan’s ears. In Rashid Khan, they have someone who is arguably already the greatest T20 player ever at just 24 years of age. Noor Ahmad is a young talent who can be lethal as the pitches deteriorate. They also have someone who has an ODI bowling average of under 25 in Mujeeb.
According to the official schedule released by the International Cricket Council, Afghanistan’s World Cup 2023 games are spread across seven different venues. They are set to play a game each in Dharamsala, Pune, Lucknow, Mumbai, and Ahmedabad while playing twice in Delhi and Chennai.
These are also the venues where some regulars from Afghanistan’s current ODI setup have played over the years in the IPL. Rashid, Nabi, Mujeeb, Noor and Fazalhaq combined have taken 74 wickets at these venues in the IPL, averaging a little under 23 and striking at less than 19.
This Afghanistan ODI unit has a good mix of youth and experience. They also seem to have found an extraordinary opener in Ibrahim Zadran.
14 games into his ODI career, he averages a whopping 62.33. So far, he has scored six scores in excess of 50 and has converted four of them into hundreds. With an exceptional conversion rate, he has proven that he is here to stay.
Thus, with a strong core, some seasoned IPL players, and Indian pitches suiting their strengths, Afghanistan would feel they can stun some of the favourites in their tourney.
Although their tendency to crumble under pressure and to collapse after good starts may cost them big time, they should try to play their best cricket. Not many teams have the luxury to claim that their spin attack is as good as, or even close to Afghanistan’s in terms of quality.
Dreaming is free, and that is why they should. Qualifying for the World Cup knockouts will be immense for a team like Afghanistan, but that remains a long way off, keeping in mind that the top teams know how to handle pressure better.