Afghan Cricket - Embarking a new journey
With around two months to go, the count down for one of the most significant mega-events in cricket has begun. Cricket World Cup, a tournament which is played every fourth year to decide the best cricket team in the world will start from 30th May, co-hosted by England & Wales.
This will be the 12th edition of this tournament and England will be hosting it for the fifth time. With many of the top teams like India, Australia, England, South Africa fighting for the coveted trophy, some of the new teams like Bangladesh, Afghanistan who joined cricket fraternity a bit late will also fancy their chances for it.
Though expectations will be high from top teams, the new teams will also be challenging opponents citing their recent performances at the international level. But one of the teams that everyone would keep an eye will be Afghanistan, who have impressed everyone with their attitude and fighting spirit in matches against big teams. Afghanistan's entry in the cricket world is as exciting as their games are.
Official entry in cricket world
Cricket was never new to Afghanistan, and they have been playing this sports from the 19th century. However, the first step to bring Afghan Cricket to the world stage was in taken in 1995 with the formation of Afghanistan Cricket Board.
The next big moment came in 2001 when they got ICC affiliation and then became a member of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) in 2003. Pakistan played a vital role in developing Afghan cricket by inviting them to play in their domestic tournaments. They finished sixth in the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Trophy in Kuala Lumpur, were runners up in the Middle East Cup in 2006 and won their first tournament, the ACC Twenty20 Cup, jointly with Oman in 2007.
ODI status and T20 success
They qualified for their first-ever Cricket World Cup in 2015 co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. In the Asia Cup 2018, Afghanistan showed how far they had come in ODI cricket where they defeated Sri Lanka for the first time and held India to a tie. To date, they have played 111 ODI matches and are currently ranked 10th in the ICC’s ODI rankings.
Afghanistan played their first T20 match against Ireland in February 2010 and have participated in four T20 World Cups since then. In the World Cup 2016, Afghanistan surprised everyone by beating West Indies in a league match. The victory was a special one because that was the first time Afghanistan had beaten a Test-playing nation. They are currently ranked eighth in T20 rankings, ahead of both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Rashid Khan – A Catalyst
A key element in Afghanistan’s success has been their spin bowling, with Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and the newcomer Mujeeb Ur Rahman all playing vital roles. Rashid Khan is the current World No 1 T20 bowler and holds a few records that every young bowler aspires to at the international level. He is the fastest as well as the youngest bowler to take 100 wickets in ODIs.
His 100th wicket came in his 44th ODI breaking the record of Australia’s Mitchell Starc, who got his 100th dismissal in the 52nd match. He also holds the history of the fastest bowler to take 50 wickets in T20 Internationals.
Though Rashid has been impressive since his debut against Zimbabwe in October 2015, the exposure that he got from playing T20 leagues across the world brought a lot of success to his country.
He got his first Indian Premier League contract in 2017 when he was picked up by Sunrisers Hyderabad and had an impressive start with 17 wickets in 14 matches. Rashid, later, started getting offers from other T20 leagues like the Caribbean Premier League, the Big Bash League and the Pakistan Super League, becoming one of the most valuable players for his teams.
He is now an improved batsman as well and is scoring essential runs in the death overs. He is one of the stars who has given an identity to Afghan Cricket at international level.
An unpredictable guest for 2019 World Cup
In the World Cup 2019 qualifiers, Afghanistan stunned everyone with their excellent performances. They were only second best to three-time world champions West Indies. Now for the upcoming World Cup, no team would like to take them for granted as they can be a big threat on their day. With the incredible promise they have shown, Afghanistan could well be the next significant Asian challenger in world cricket.