Asia Cup 2018: Why Afghanistan might surprise everyone
The 14th edition of the Asia Cup is scheduled to be played in the United Arab Emirates from 15th September to 28th September. The ODI tournament will involve six teams split in two groups of three, and the top two teams from each group will advance to the Super Four round. Finally the top two teams in the Super Four round will progress to play in the final on 28th September in Dubai.
The five nations that have already qualified include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The sixth participant will be decided by the 2018 Asia Cup qualifier which will be played in Malaysia from 29th August to 6th September.
Group A will involve arch-rivals India and Pakistan along with the winner of 2018 Asia Cup qualifier whereas Group B will involve Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The emerging cricketing nation of Afghanistan will start its 2018 Asia Cup campaign on 17th September against Sri Lanka.
We shall now take a look at reasons why Afghanistan might prove to be a surprise package in this Asia Cup campaign.
Blend of youthful zeal and experience
The Afghanistan cricket team currently has a blend of young and experienced players who can come together to form a strong squad for the upcoming Asia Cup. The current vice-captain, Rashid Khan has gained a lot of experience at the age of 19 by playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and has been a consistent performer for his national side.
The 19-year-old right-arm spinner became the fastest and youngest bowler to take 100 wickets in ODIs when he dismissed Shai Hope of West Indies in the 2018 ICC Cricket World Cup qualifier.
Another Afghan teenage prodigy, Mujeeb Ur Rahman rose to prominence earlier this year when he was was bought by the Kings XI Punjab in the 2018 IPL Auction. He was a part of the Afghanistan squad for the 2018 ICC Cricket World Cup qualifier and ended his campaign with 17 wickets, the joint highest wicket taker along with compatriot Rashid Khan and Scotland's Safyaan Sharif.
The young spinners gained plenty of experience while playing for the national side and in domestic T20 leagues, and will play a vital role in Afghanistan's Asia Cup campaign next month.
Exposure to International cricket
Afghanistan played their first major ICC tournament in 2010 when they qualified for the ICC World Twenty20 in West Indies. Since then the Asian country has come on leaps and bounds to the extent that they can no longer be considered mere pushovers in major tournaments.
The Asian nation was rewarded for its efforts in the international arena in 2017 when the ICC awarded Afghanistan full Test status along with Ireland. In June 2018 Afghanistan played their first test match against India in Bengaluru.
Afghanistan qualified for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup ahead of the likes of Zimbabwe and Ireland, who used to feature regularly at cricket's biggest event. The team not only qualified for the World Cup in England next year but won the qualifying tournament by defeating two-time World Cup winners West Indies in the final.
The immense experience gained by Afghanistan will surely be pivotal for them in next month's Asian mega event.