The Rise of Afghanistan Cricket
In 2010, a war-torn Afghanistan made headlines when it qualified for the T20 World Cup (WC) but it failed to grab attention as it was decimated by India and South Africa during the league stage. It could not impress much in the subsequent years.
In 2013, the Afghanistan cricket team was granted associate membership in the International Cricket Council (ICC) which could be attributed to the Afghanistan Cricket Boards's (ACB's) rapid progress in developing cricket in the nation. Shortly after this, the ACB signed a 2-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for developing Afghanistan cricket for the 2015 Cricket World Cup (CWC).
This enabled the improvement of Afghanistan cricket under the leadership of Mohammad Nabi (Afghan's most capped player) as they qualified for the 2015 CWC. The only highlight of their 2015 campaign was a one-wicket win over Scotland during the league stage. Following the WC, Asghar Afghan was made the captain of the Afghanistan team.
Under Afghan's leadership, Afghanistan cricket began to scale new heights. It became the only team that defeated eventual champions West Indies in the T20 WC in 2016. However, 2017 turned out to be the year when Afghanistan finally announced itself on the international stage. With injury concerns to senior bowlers, the team was under pressure to bring in some young talent into their team. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it opened up the talent pool in Afghanistan. Players like Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rehman came into limelight.
During the 2017 IPL auctions, Sunrisers Hyderabad roped in an 18-year-old Rashid Khan from Afghanistan for a whopping Rs 4 crore. This turned out to be a masterstroke for the Hyderabad franchise as Rashid Khan took 18 wickets at an economy of 6.14 thereby becoming the emerging player of IPL 2017.
Following his IPL heroics, Rashid Khan has become Afghanistan's lead bowler and he also became the fastest to reach 100 wickets in ODIs. In the process, he has become the number one ranked bowler in T20 Internationals.
During the 2018 IPL auctions, 16-year-old Mujeeb was roped in by Kings XI Punjab for an eye-popping Rs 4 crore. And he did not disappoint as he picked up 14 wickets at a miserly economy rate of 7.
Afghanistan has now gained the reputation of manufacturing rare spinners like Mujeeb Ur Rehman and Zahir Khan among others.
The trio of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rehman and Mohammad Nabi have become one of the world's best spin bowling attack in recent times. They were instrumental in helping Afghanistan secure a place in the 2019 CWC.
With Afghanistan's performances improving day by day, the ICC was prompted to give Test status to Afghanistan in 2018. However, they were decimated by India in all the three departments in their first Test. So, they still have a long way to go in red-ball cricket.
But, they have made giant strides in white ball cricket and have made established teams like Bangladesh, West Indies and Sri Lanka look like minnows.
In conclusion, the Afghanistan team has now become a force to be reckoned with in the 2019 CWC. They are playing some high-quality cricket and would be a tough team to beat in the coming years.