The excitement is palpable as one of the most enthralling tournaments in world cricket is almost upon us. The ICC T20I World Cup gets underway this month, and we preview the 16 teams that will be competing to lift the famous trophy. Here we have the lowdown on Afghanistan.

The last few months have been full of overhaul for Afghanistan the nation and its cricket team. Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban earlier this year, changing life as we know it in the country. That has had a big impact on the cricket team as well, but the Afghanistan players are set to light up the T20I World Cup. Political controversies aside, this Afghanistan team is filled with talented players and has one of the best spin attacks in the world. And they could make life very difficult for their opponents.

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Afghanistan haven’t been able to play much cricket as a team this year, but their record reads three wins and no defeats in T20Is. All those wins came against Zimbabwe in the UAE in March. A number of their stars have trotted the globe to play T20 cricket since then. And they issued quite a statement ahead of the tournament by beating the West Indies on Wednesday in their final warm-up match ahead of the start of the World Cup. 

Biggest Strength

Afghanistan have developed into a much more well-rounded since the 2019 50-over World Cup. But their biggest strength is still their world-class spin attack which features three match winners in Rashid Khan, Mujeeb-uh-Rahman and Mohammad Nabi. They have played a lot of franchise cricket in recent months, and their experience will prove to be invaluable for the Afghanistan team in the UAE conditions. 

Biggest Weakness

This is not necessarily a weakness but a big question mark remains over how the Afghanistan players will fare considering all that’s going on back home. With so much uncertainty regarding their status as a full ICC member, this could well prove to be Afghanistan’s last ever tournament. Add to that the politics and some of the selection decisions made by the board, which prompted Rashid Khan to resign as captain last month, and all these things could take a big toll on the players.

What the media are saying

With everything that is happening in Afghanistan, the cricket team’s inclusion in the T20I World Cup has split opinion and not everyone believes that they should be allowed to take part in the tournament. But now that they are here, they are seen as a team that could cause an upset or two during the Super 12s.

Star Player

There are few bowlers in world cricket who have made the sort of impact that Rashid Khan has on the T20 scene. The legspinner has been setting the world alight with his incredible bowling for years now and is one of the global superstars of T20 cricket. He has played a whopping 284 T20 matches and has picked up 392 wickets at an economy rate of just 6.35. Still only 23, Rashid Khan is only going to get better and better as the years go by. And this World Cup could be the perfect opportunity for him to show his quality on the biggest stage.

Keep an eye on…

Afghanistan’s batting lineup has been plagued by inconsistencies for years now. And it was one of the reasons why they weren’t able to make more of an impact at the 2019 50-over World Cup. Step forward Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who is considered to be one of the country’s most exciting young talents with the bat. The 19 year old top-order batter has an average of 34 and a healthy strike rate of more than 140. He impressed in the series against Zimbabwe earlier in the year, and will now be aiming to get his nation off to good starts with the bat at the World Cup.

Projected XI

Usman Ghani, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi (c), Karim Janat, Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Naveen-ul-Haq, Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, Hamid Hassan

Prediction

On paper, this Australia squad looks as formidable as any other team. But a closer look suggests that there are many holes that Justin Langer and Aaron Finch will need to plug if they want to have any chance of making it to the semi-finals, let alone winning the World Cup. Getting the better of England, the West Indies and South Africa certainly won’t be easy. But if the big names step up with the bat and avoid a panicky approach against spin bowling, they could yet make it deep in the tournament. Otherwise it will be an early trip home for Australia.