Are we right to blame Gulbadin Naib for Afghanistan's poor show in the World Cup?
Passion is everything in sport. Well, but sometimes players need to push passion to the backseat and do what is best for the team. Gulbadin Naib, a 28-year-old Afghan all-rounder, was surprisingly crowned the new captain of his national team just two months before the biggest event of world cricket.
The team’s senior players, Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi, criticised the top management’s decision to sack Asghar Afghan as the skipper but officials had a different vision and they thought it best to hand over the reins to Naib.
Born in Pol-e Alam, Gulbadin Naib had represented Afghanistan in 55 ODIs and 38 T20Is prior to the 2019 World Cup. He had a decent record with both bat and ball, which gave him a special place in the Afghan team. Naib had made his debut against Japan in 2008.
The fast-bowling all-rounder was included in Afghanistan's Asian Games squad, which won the silver medal in 2010. He also got a place in the 2012 T20 World Cup squad. Though Naib never earned the fans’ attention with his contributions, he has been doing well for the team.
While the team’s other stars -- Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mohammad Shahzad -- caught the attention of fans with their match-winning performances, Naib performed under the radar. Rashid and Nabi even earned IPL contracts while Naib continued to focus on his game.
The right-handed batsman’s international numbers improved a lot in the succeeding years yet he never found the limelight. Naib emerged to be one of the best players for Afghanistan in 2018 and 2019 as he took his team over the line on multiple occasions.
Everyone remembers the 57-run knock that Rashid Khan played versus Bangladesh in Asia Cup 2018 but no one could recollect that even Naib stayed unbeaten on 42 that night. Even in the match against India, when Mohammad Shahzad was going hard from one end while the wickets were tumbling from the other, Naib played a slow knock to stabilise the innings.
He had never been an economical fast bowler for Afghanistan, but his job was to get the wickets. His best figures of 6/43 came against Ireland heading into the World Cup.
So, perhaps, Afghanistan handed him the captaincy because Naib was an underappreciated player and he possessed the abilities of doing well in every department.
However, the fans and some other team members felt that Karim Janat deserved to be the team's seam bowling all-rounder while Gulbadin was not needed in the team, let alone as being the captain. Nevertheless, the board did not overturn its controversial decision, which paid dividend as Afghanistan upset Pakistan in a warm-up match ahead of the World Cup.
But when the World Cup arrived, Naib’s primary plans did not succeed. His main players let him down in crucial situations. And took up too much on his own -- from opening the innings for Afghanistan and bowling in the death overs.
Despite his team’s consecutive losses, Naib stayed positive and backed himself. Though his decision to open the innings for his team did not pan out, his thought process in replacing a hard-hitter like Shahzad with a pinch-hitter made some sense.
As mentioned, he had played multiple game-saving innings for Afghanistan but nobody ever noticed it. Thus, he might have felt that he could do a good job for his team by opening the innings, while also earning the respect of the Afghan fans.
In terms of bowling, Naib emerged as the best fast bowler for his team. His fitness levels helped him play all nine matches for Afghanistan. The team's premier fast bowler, Hamid Hassan, suffered an injury in a crunch game -- losing despite being inches away from a historic win. The other fast bowler, Dawlat Zadran, had proved to be expensive. Thus Naib took on the job of bowling in pressure situations.
He might have failed in his challenges, but it would be deny the fact that the skipper did what he could for the team's cause.
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