World Cup 2019: Analysis of Afghanistan's campaign in this tournament
For this edition of the mega tournament, the Afghanistan squad included the likes of international superstars Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, and Hazratullah Zazai amongst others. Notably, the trio was not part of the squad that made it to Australia and New Zealand back ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
Apart from these youngsters, the squad also wore an experienced look with the likes of Mohammad Nabi, Asgar Afghan and skipper Gulbadin Naib bringing in the experience into the squad.
However, the mix of youth and experience did not work well for the Gulbadin Naib-led side as they failed to register a single win from their nine encounters and crashed out of the tournament, finishing at rock-bottom on the points table.
Here, we have a look at Afghanistan's journey to the World Cup 2019 and how they fared in the tournament as well.
Afghanistan's squad for the 2019 World Cup
Afghanistan faced a much tougher assignment in the 2019 World Cup as they were the lowest ranked side coming into the tournament and unlike the 2015 World Cup, Afghanistan had to face off against the other top-ranked sides.
However, the Afghanistan national team was certainly an improvement when compared to their squad four years back. The 2019 squad included the likes of key spinners Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Zadran, as well as big-hitting opener Hazratullah Zazai and the experienced trio of Mohammad Nabi, Asghar Afghan, and Mohammad Shahzad.
Afghanistan's squad, however, hit their first obstacle as Mohammad Shahzad was pulled out of the tournament due to injury, and replaced by Ikram Ali Khil. Additionally, all-rounder Aftab Alam was withdrawn from the squad due to "exceptional circumstance".
2019 World Cup Performance
While Afghanistan finished the World Cup without picking up a win, they would certainly view their performance with a couple of positives. Continuing their stellar bowling performance in 2015, Afghanistan gave India a run for their money, restricting the mighty India batting to just 224 runs in their innings, before falling 11 runs short of pulling off perhaps the greatest upset in World Cup history.
Afghanistan also went on to push Pakistan all the way to the end, after setting a moderate total of 228 to win. The Afghanistan bowlers made Pakistan work incredibly hard for their three-wicket victory, only managing to reach the target with 2 balls left in their innings.
Considering that Afghanistan came into the World Cup as the 'underdogs', the fact that they came close to upsetting two established cricketing nations would be a huge mark of success. While the players and coaches would have hoped to pull off a victory, their performance is certainly a step in the right direction.
Standouts and Discoveries
Ikram AliKhil may be known to keen followers of Afghanistan cricket and coming in as a replacement for veteran wicket-keeper Mohammad Shahzad, AliKhil did himself many favors with his performances in the World Cup.
While he didn't set the stage on fire, he did take three catches and effected stumping as well, apart from 142 runs from seven matches, including a memorable 93-ball 86 against West Indies.
Mohammad Nabi was the pick of the bowlers, picking up 10 wickets at an economy rate of 4.61, with his best show figures of 4/30 against Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, young spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman was handy with the ball, picking up seven wickets with an economy rate of 4.47.
Considering where they finished against what they expected heading in, they would still have some disappointments coming out of the tournament. Certainly, they would feel that they had a great chance to knock off one of the best teams in India after restricting them to 224.
While controversies and injuries off the field did not help, on the ground, the two biggest dissappointments were Hazratullah Zazai and star spinner Rashid Khan. Zazai scored just 96 from his five games and was dropped from the XI following a disappointing game against India.
Rashid Khan failed on quite a big level, with the tweaker finishing with just six wickets from nine matches. The youngster will want to forget the tournament quickly, for he was taken to the cleaners by the England batsmen, as he was thwarted for 110 runs off 9 overs, the costliest ever figures in the history of the World Cup.