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Asia Cup 2022

Afghanistan’s new young core is making them so much more than occasional giantkillers

Afghanistan got their Asia Cup campaign to a blistering start against Sri Lanka
by Shashwat Kumar 5 minute read

Afghanistan have long been a team capable of causing the odd upset at a major tournament. At this year’s Asia Cup, though, they’re threatening to do much more than that, writes Shashwat Kumar.

There has always been a sense of buzz and anticipation attached to Afghanistan in recent years. Part of it is because of the obstacles they have had to overcome to just get to this stage. Another contributing factor has been the presence of several top-class white-ball bowlers, who have distinguished themselves playing in various global T20 leagues.

Thus, they have entered almost every tournament in the past few years looking to take the next step and cause upsets more regularly. Unfortunately, it has not quite transpired that way, with these tournaments often reminding Afghanistan how far they were from competing for the prizes that mattered.


At the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, Afghanistan failed to win a single game. In the 2021 T20 World Cup, there was an expectation that their spinners would thrive in the UAE. However, the only matches they won in the Super 12 stage were against Namibia and Scotland – two ICC Associate nations.

That said, there were still a couple of moments during last year’s T20 World Cup where it felt that Afghanistan were becoming the team they’ve threatened to become. They obliterated Scotland and put on a hitting show that you would normally only associate with the biggest gunslingers in the game. Afghanistan also ran Pakistan perilously close, and had they not collided into an Asif Ali onslaught, would have scripted a historic victory.

In the 2016 T20 World Cup, they managed to beat the West Indies at Nagpur. The Caribbean outfit ultimately lifted the title that year, highlighting how big an achievement Afghanistan’s victory was. A couple of years after that watershed victory, the Afghans punched above their weight in the Asia Cup. During the initial round-robin phase, they got the better of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. They also tied a game with India during the Super Four stage.

There has always been an X-Factor about them, a feeling that they could outwit any team on their day. For some reason or the other, though, it has not materialised into tangible rewards. This edition of the Asia Cup has only seen a solitary game so far. If you are an Afghanistan fan, however, it should be enough to inject belief and confidence into your system.

Afghanistan ripped through Sri Lanka in their Asia Cup opener. The tone was set by 21-year-old left-arm quick Fazalhaq Farooqi who claimed two wickets in the first over of the match. He was backed up by his opening bowling partner, Naveen Ul Haq, who is one year his senior – Naveen claimed 1-23 from his three overs. Perhaps most encouragingly for Afghanistan was that they were able to bowl Sri Lanka out for 105 without their talisman Rashid Khan taking a wicket. With Naveen and Fazalhaq thriving with the new ball, there is a new dimension to this Afghanistan team that had until recently been missing.

They impressed further in the way in which they went about their run chase. Most teams, especially with this being the opening fixture of a major tournament, would have taken their time. Not Afghanistan. They laid down an early marker and ransacked the target inside 11 overs. It was their second biggest victory (in terms of balls) in the shortest format and was accomplished with a dominance.

Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz were at the forefront of that charge, much like they have been for the past couple of years. Najibullah Zadran, who struck the winning run, has been around for more than a decade. Mohammad Nabi, who captained Afghanistan against Sri Lanka, is one of their limited-overs pioneers. Mujeeb ur Rahman and Rashid Khan, meanwhile, have been household names ever since they started playing competitive senior cricket.

So, what has really changed for Afghanistan, and why is this edition of the Asia Cup different to previous iterations? The answer is slightly two-fold. They are becoming decreasingly reliant on a handful of star names. Gurbaz, Falhaq and Naveen are part of a new, emerging young core that complements the established names of Rashid, Mujeeb and Nabi.

Rashid now has tournament-winning experience. These players are transforming the Afghanistan mindset. They want to own the place whenever they walk out to the centre, as was evident against Sri Lanka.

The emergence of Fazalhaq Farooqi and Naveen-ul-Haq is really exciting. Fazalhaq had the Sri Lankan batters on toast on Saturday, swinging and seaming the ball both ways. He can also bowl towards the end of an innings, and is brilliant with his variations. Naveen, too, has been exceptional at the death since the start of his career. In all T20 cricket, his economy rate during this phase is 8.7.

Afghanistan are no longer solely dependent on their A-listers. They now have a secondary arsenal that can cause just as many problems. And that, more than anything else, is what makes them a greater force to reckon with at the 2022 Asia Cup.

Maybe then, this is the tournament where everything starts falling into place for Afghanistan. For quite a while, their story has been revered because of all that they have had to overcome. Right from battling infrastructural issues to hurdling over political turmoil back home.

This is, in many ways, a destiny that they have created for themselves, where they continue defying odds and enthral fans with their brand of cricket, all while winning the games that matter. It has always felt they will get there at some point. It feels that they are as close to it now as they have ever been.

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