ICC World Cup 2019: Why the world's top-ranked bowler may miss out on the tournament

Rashid Khan will captain Afghanistan in the opening fixtures of the World Cup qualifiers.
Rashid Khan was in action recently for the Big Bash League 2018 winners Adelaide Strikers

It seems Rashid Khan has a magnetic affinity for records. The wrist spinner from Afghanistan first made the world take notice of him back in 2017 when he was picked up by Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL auctions, a move that made him the highest paid player from an associate nation.

As this precocious talent became instrumental to Afghanistan's recent successes (the country recently became a Test nation), his ascent in the IPL echelons continued with the Sunrisers retaining him in this year's auctions. He became Afghanistan's first IPL millionaire in the process.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg for this teenager. His consistent performances with the national side not only made him fetch the 2017 Associate Player of the Year trophy from ICC; he has since scaled greater heights, the greatest possible for the moment, one might argue, as Khan reached the dual pinnacle of the ICC ODI and T20I bowlers' ratings.

Not bad for a 19-year-old from a war-torn newbie still finding its feet in international cricket. But there is no stopping Khan it seems, now he is all set to become the youngest captain in international cricket when Afghanistan embark on their campaign in the all-important ICC World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe.

As regular captain Asghar Stanikzai recovers from a bout of appendicitis, Khan, the vice-captain will lead the team on to the field against Scotland in their opening game on March 4th.

Khan is not a prodigious turner of the ball and is thus not a leg spinner in the classical mould like a Shane Warne, for example. Instead, he relies on flippers and an immaculately tight line to get his wickets. In this approach, he reminds one of Anil Kumble, and indeed Shahid Afridi, who is also incidentally, his idol.

Khan is special. His numbers, which are often an unromantic marker, tell us that quite poignantly. He has taken 86 wickets since his debut in 2015, the most by any bowler during this period. His economy and strike rate since 2017 is also unmatched.

He is brilliant at defending small totals, he is also an effervescent fielder. Clearly, Khan is a great advertisement for emerging nations as cricket struggles to expand its horizons beyond the traditional powerhouses.

However, here's where the ICC planning for the global game appears detrimental to their proffered cause. The world body has cut the World Cup down from fourteen nations to ten. Baffling, isn't it?

This means that even the twelve Test playing nations won't all be part of the global showpiece to be held in England and Wales next year. Quite baffling for the layman cricket fan and a step backwards for the 50-over game.

This is a decision which means one can technically not see the top-ranked Rashid in the tournament next year. Though Afghanistan are touted as the favourites in the qualifiers, the format is tough and only two out of ten competing teams will progress to the World Cup proper.

Battling it out for the two spots are four Test-playing nations, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Afghanistan and of course, two-time world champions West Indies, whose fall from grace has been remarkable.

ICC's strange decision of contracting the 50-over World Cup means the world might theoretically miss out on seeing the exploits of Rashid Khan, who is the joint top-ranked bowler along with Jasprit Bumrah. Clearly, a game of paradoxes, this.

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Edited by Raunak J
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