Afghanistan’s rise through the ranks has been one of the most significant cricketing stories of the 21st century. Ahead of their first appearance at the World Cup, in 2015, Afghanistan had played at the 2014 Asia Cup. After two four-nation editions in 2010 and 2012, the Asia Cup expanded to five to accommodate an Associate Nation.
Afghanistan beat Bangladesh in Fatullah in 2014. Asghar Afghan (90*) and Samiullah Shinwari (81) lifted them to 254-6 after they were 90-5 before the bowlers sent Bangladesh packing for 222. In 2016 – a T20I edition – a defeat against the UAE denied them a berth in the main phase.
When ODIs returned, Afghanistan turned things around in remarkable manner in 2018. Rashid Khan (57* in 32 balls, 9-3-13-1), then a new star on the horizon, helped them inflict a 136-run thrashing on Bangladesh. They then ran out of steam before tying their last match, against eventual champions India.
Since that tournament, Afghanistan have won 20 and lost 10 Twenty20 internationals – a remarkable feat by any standards. Among ICC Full Members, their win-loss ratio in this phase is only behind India’s 2.421. In the UAE, their record over the same period is an impressive 5-3 (28-10 overall).
While Rashid continues to remain their most important cricketer, the team has depth in both departments. Rahmanullah Gurbaz’s T20I form might have been a matter of concern (he has failed to reach five in five out of nine innings this year), but he has impressed in other formats. In Najibullah Zadran, Ibrahim Zadran, and Hazratullah Zazai, they have three explosive batters, while Mohammad Nabi has the ability to explode in the death overs.
Afghanistan have traditionally banked on their spinners – Nabi, Rashid, and Mujeeb Ur Rahman – but now they have a formidable seam attack as well. Fazalhaq Farooqi and Naveen-ul-Haq have now been joined by Azmatullah Omarzai. Afghanistan will indeed be a team to watch out for.
Afghanistan in Asia Cup 2022: Schedule
(All timings are in local time; matches will begin at 2pm GMT)
August 27, Afghanistan vs Sri Lanka, Dubai International Stadium, 6pm
August 30, Afghanistan vs Bangladesh, Sharjah Cricket Stadium, 6pm
Afghanistan in Asia Cup 2022: Key players
The face of Afghan cricket, Rashid has been key to their success in every contest. There used to be a time when the opposition preferred to play out Rashid and take on the other 16 overs. Given Afghanistan’s current riches, that is unlikely to be easy. Expect more risks being taken again Rashid, and as a result, more wickets. Do not forget his batting either: the promotion to No.7 for the Gujarat Titans has yielded a couple of blinders.
In the history of T20 Internationals, only Shakib Al Hasan has more runs and more wickets than Nabi (1,653 runs, strike rate 142, 80 wickets, economy 7.29). A violent hitter towards the end as well as an economical bowler at any phase of the innings, the Afghan captain adds more balance to his side than almost anyone else for their respective team.
Asia Cup 2022: Afghanistan squad and team news
Afghanistan: Mohammad Nabi (c), Najibullah Zadran (vc), Afsar Zazai (wk), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Azmatullah Omarzai, Fareed Ahmed, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Hazratullah Zazai, Ibrahim Zadran, Karim Janat, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Najibullah Zadran, Naveen-ul-Haq, Noor Ahmad, Rashid Khan, Samiullah Shinwari