Afghanistan have been one of cricket's success stories in the past decade. They come into the World Cup as the underdogs but no team would be taking them lightly. Their players, particularly the spinners, have shown -- while playing for their individual T20 franchises -- that they can stun any team on their day.
Afghanistan's biggest strength can be described in one word - spinners. They have the best-limited overs spinner in the world in Rashid Khan whose variations alone take the pitch out of the equation. Add to that the threat posed by Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi and Afghanistan have a world-class spin department that can make any batting unit utterly miserable. This was evident when the trio brought India to their knees in the Asia Cup in a thriller that eventually ended in a tie.
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What was visible in their second warm-up match against England, and has been evident for some time now, is that Afghanistan's batting is as vulnerable as their spinners are reliable. In that game, Afghanistan fell from 66/4 to 92/8 in just over 8 overs. Sixty eight runs were added by the last two wickets because of which they reached a score of 160 but that was no match for the mighty English batting lineup. The target was chased down within 18 overs.
Afghanistan have Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi and Asghar Afghan, all of whom are good at staying at the crease while stroke makers Mohammad Shahzad and Hazratullah Zazai fire away from the other end. But their inconsistency makes their batting Afghanistan's weak link.
Afghanistan have the chance to firmly establish themselves among the bigwigs of international cricket in this tournament. Chief selector Dawlat Khan Ahmadzai had said while unveiling the team's World Cup jersey in New Delhi that they are aiming to make it to the semi-finals. They will be playing more matches this time, which means that they have more opportunities to make it to the knockouts.
The sacking of longtime captain Asghar Afghan had created a rift within the team. Senior players Rashid and Nabi had openly voiced their displeasure at the decision while coach Phil Simmons had said that he was not aware of it being taken. Simmons also announced shortly after Afghan's sacking that this World Cup will be his last assignment with the Afghanistan cricket team. Apart from all the threats that will be posed by opposition teams, Afghanistan will need to keep this incident to one side and ensure that the team remains united through the course of the tournament.