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Skillful Afghanistan overwhelmed by the big stage

Mark Wood consoles Afghanistan's Hashmatullah Shahidi, who was hit in the head from a bowl
Mark Wood consoles Afghanistan's Hashmatullah Shahidi, who was hit in the head from a bowl
©Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith

Losing the toss on multiple occasions, the batting struggling in pace bowling friendly conditions, repeated collapses of the middle order, spinners unable to extract purchase from the surface and inability to hold their nerves under pressure situations are the reasons which have led to Afghanistan being out of the semi final race.


The rise of the Afghans 

Afghanistan had separated themselves from the associate nations a long time back and were certainly the cream of the crop in that respect. However, there were not expectations from the team to take the cricketing world by storm when they graduated to the next level. But the way they played against the bigger nations, it ignited hope in the hearts of many.

The Afghans started garnering fan following at a rapid pace not only among their compatriots but within the cricket loving community across the world. What stood out was the passion with which they played the game and the never say die attitude that the team displayed.

Under the captaincy of Asghar Afghan, the team took long strides as it gained Test membership and qualified for the 2019 World Cup after beating West Indies in the final of the qualifiers. They also showed their class in a couple of bilateral series against a good Ireland side.

This is why when they beat Pakistan in their first warm-up match by three wickets, the cricketing word stopped and took notice. However, there are a slew of factors which have led to Afghanistan's poor performance in the tournament till now.

Underwhelming performance by spinners

Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman were expected to take the World Cup by storm but that has not been the case till now. Mohammad Nabi impressed in the match against Sri Lanka where he took 4-30 but the batters let the team down in that match as they lost the game by 34 runs. Apart from that match, Nabi has not been able to snaffle a single wicket.

Likewise, Rashid Khan only has three wickets from five matches which is very unlikely for a wicket-taker like him. In fact, he gave away a shocking 110 runs from his nine overs in his last match against England to become the first spinner to concede more than hundred runs in ODI cricket.

Skipper Gulbadin Naib is aware of this issue and addressed it in a press conference. “We are looking for the spin in every game. But we didn't find spin on the surface. The spin is key for Afghanistan, in the last three years that’s how we play our cricket – spin provides a high rate of success for the Afghanistan team."

Middle order collapses

Afghanistan have not only stuttered but completely fallen in the middle overs, with the batsmen not being able to keep up to the intensity of the World Cup. They have tried to slog the balls out of the park and have thrown away their wickets in the process.

They lost their last eight wickets for just 56 runs against South Africa. The team was well placed at 69-2 at one point but skittled out for 125 following the rain break. Against New Zealand as well, they were reduced from 66-0 to 70-4 in a matter of few balls.

Neither of their batsman has been able to leave a mark in the tournament. Neither of Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran or Gulbadin Naib, who have been their top three batsmen have been able to touch the 40-run average. The likes of Rahmat Shah and Mohammad Nabi have been even much worse.

Along with that, it is quite obvious the team is overwhelmed by the big stage and the pressure of World Cup matches. Afghanistan have played most of their matches as underdogs and when the fans became hopeful of them dishing out some memorable performances, they have crumbled under that pressure.

The controversial sacking of wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad has further weakened the bond in the team, which is visible on the field. The passion with which they have played the game till now is missing in this World Cup, which is the biggest reason for their ordinary run.

©Cricket World 2019