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Newbies Afghanistan aim to make a splash

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Unlike Canada and Kenya – Associate supernovas of the 2000s – Afghanistan’s star continues to burn brightly since their meteoric rise through the World Cricket League starting in 2008 and shows no signs of being reduced to a flicker anytime soon. After finishing one spot out of the qualifying positions for the last World Cup, Afghanistan finished second in the 2011-2013 WCL Championship, securing one of the four World Cup berths available to Associates.

In the time since, they notched a convincing 32-run win over Bangladesh in the 2014 Asia Cup and won two out of four ODIs away in Zimbabwe in July. Afghanistan displayed promising signs that they will be able to adjust to conditions in Australia and New Zealand by winning four out of eight games during a pre-World Cup tour in September and October against state-and district-level competition.

Their most recent competitive action has been against their fellow Associates. After dropping three of four ODIs to UAE, Afghanistan came away with two wins out of four ODIs in a desert tri-series against Ireland and Scotland. More evidence that Afghanistan hasn’t shed their helter-skelter style was on display as they easily chased down 238 in one game against Scotland before collapsing for 63 in a rematch six days later.

Talismanic but oft-injured fast bowler Hamid Hassan took 5 for 45 against UAE on December 4 in just his second ODI upon returning from a lengthy layoff. He managed to stay in one piece through the subsequent ODIs against Scotland and Ireland and his continued good health represents Afghanistan’s best chance to cause a ruckus with upsets in their World Cup debut.

Afghanistan’s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals are pinned to defeating the other Associate, Scotland, plus the weakest Full Member in Group A, Bangladesh, as well as defying the odds to knock off one of the big teams. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the final Group A match between England and Afghanistan on March 13 could determine who advances to the knockout stage.

World Cup pedigree:

None. However, Afghanistan has participated in the last three ICC World Twenty20s in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Their bowlers have produced respectable displays in all three appearances but Afghanistan’s batting and fielding have crumbled under the increased glare of global events.

X-factor:

The mercurial nature of Afghanistan’s performances can be frustrating for their supporters because there is no knowing whether Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde will be showing up from match to match. They are more than capable of playing the spoiler role for one of the favourites in the group to throw the quarter-finals into disarray. Win or lose, they’ll keep viewers entertained.

Players in focus:

Mohammad Nabi;
Nabi’s reliability led him to being named Afghanistan captain in March 2013. The allrounder is capable of stabilising the innings after an early collapse or launching a late assault from the middle order. He can also contribute an economical spell of offspin.

Samiullah Shenwari:
The legspinning allrounder’s toothy grin disguises how brutal he can be to the opposition. His finest hour was his audacious 81 off 69 balls in the Asia Cup win over Bangladesh and he’s not bad with the ball either.

Usman Ghani:
The 18-year-old’s exploits at the top of the order came at a good time for Afghanistan. He posted a century in a defeat to Zimbabwe in July and another one in a nine-wicket win over Auckland in October. Ghani was Afghanistan’s leading scorer on their pre-World Cup tour down under with 239 runs at 47.80, and will be the youngest player at the event. His recent form has been patchy though and he’ll be tested when going up against international bowling units at full strength.

Game style:

A rollercoaster ride featuring the good, the bad and the ugly. They’ll be capable of chasing down anything in the 250 range … or imploding for 100. Get the popcorn ready.

Prediction;

They should beat Scotland but anything beyond that will be a happy bonus. They have the most balanced bowling attack among the four Associate qualifiers, so any team that underestimates them may be in for a rude awakening.

World Cup stats;

This is Afghanistan’s first World Cup. They became the 12th Associate to qualify for the World Cup.

Mohammad Nabi was Afghanistan’s highest scorer and leading wicket-taker in World Cup qualifying, finishing with 423 runs at 52.87 and 20 wickets in 13 matches.

If they were an actor …

Peter Dinklage: Arrived out of nowhere but undeniable talent precipitated his recent rise to fame, winning hearts of viewers worldwide. Capable of playing characters charming, cunning and haunting.

Theme song;

“Crazy Train” – Ozzy Osbourne—(ESPN Sports Media Ltd.)