Afghanistan’s spinners turned out to be prolific in their massive win over Scotland, but it was their six-hitting batters who made the difference in the first half of the game. Given how they’ve fared, and the talent at hand, their refreshing batting approach could really take them far in the tournament.
Afghanistan’s beautiful journey to the top-tiers of international cricket is rightfully credited to its army of spinners, some of whom have gone on to become truly world-class. Rashid Khan is unmatched in T20Is, Mujeeb Ur Rahman is incredibly hard to pick on most days and Mohammad Nabi is a crafty, easy-going presence that any team would love to have. These three are big, but it would be naive to think that these are the only ones carrying Afghanistan cricket forward.
That Afghanistan’s bowling has historically overshadowed their batting is a well-known theory, but the last two years have seen a stream of power-hitters play catch-up, and bolster their weak top-half. It isn’t just about the Shahzads and Nabis anymore.
Monday’s game against Scotland showed just how dangerous the top order looks, and why it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Afghanistan cruised to a 130-run win, their biggest win in T20Is, built largely on the back of a stellar performance from the top four. Hazratullah Zazai got them to a flyer with a 30-ball 44 – among Test-playing nations, the left-hander has the third-highest strike-rate (154.65) for a T20I opener (minimum 15 innings), and the fifth-best average (40.93). He once hit 162* against Ireland, averages 2.68 sixes every innings, hit six sixes in an over in a domestic T20 game, and is just 23. That’s one serious resume.
Partnering him is Mohammad Shahzad, who’s made a reputation for himself as an uninhibitedly fierce striker. Afghanistan’s top run-getter in the 2016 T20 World Cup, and the veteran flagbearer of their batting, Shahzad has been playing T20Is for over a decade now, and averages over 30 at a strike-rate of more than 130 as an opener.
Rahmanullah Gurbaz, all of 19, has hit more sixes (32) than the likes of Rohit Sharma, Andre Russell and Jos Buttler in fewer games since his debut in 2019. Against Scotland, he hit four sixes, ending with a relatively inferior strike-rate of 124.32 to the rest. Having him at four gives Afghanistan the freedom to go all-out attack. He’s followed by vice-captain Najibullah Zadran, who started off as a teenager back in 2012, and continues to be a power-packed presence in the middle order – he loves the deep mid-wicket region, has shown his class in PSL and CPL gigs, and also has the ability to hit incredulous shots like this one.
And we haven’t even spoken about Nabi, Afghanistan’s leading six-hitter in T20Is (83), yet.
Together, they make for one incredibly dangerous batting unit, and while the win against the lower-ranked Scotland side isn’t a surprise at all, the manner of their dominance would really worry other historically mightier sides. Their current net run-rate of +6.500 also complicates matters in regards to which sides will go through – only two teams will qualify to the semis, and with New Zealand and India both already a loss down, they surely won’t have it easy when they face Afghanistan.
The format might be manic, but the game is really simple, and Afghanistan’s incredible, uncomplicated six-hitting approach might actually carry them past some of the most established nations. It’s a lesson a lot of teams are learning on these pitches – a powerful top five can really take you far in this World Cup.