“Overall, Afghanistan started of their World Cup campaign with a lot of flamboyance but there was hardly anything substantial to test a quality opponent like Australia”
Whenever Afghanistan play, there is no shortage of drama and flair. It is their spirited outburst on the field, which attract the crowd towards them. Perhaps, that’s why the packed stadium at Bristol went crazy whenever the Afghans had their moments in their inaugural match against Australia on Sunday (June 1). However, barring some sparks on the field, especially when they were batting, Afghanistan were exposed and outclassed by defending champions Australia on a grassy surface.
Initially, it looked like a very brave call by the Afghan skipper Gulbadin Naib to bat first on that pitch. With three spinners in the line-up, it looked like their best chance to put Australia under pressure. However, to get a decent total on the board, they needed to see off the initial spell of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins.
Unfortunately, when the game started, it seemed Mohammad Shahzad and Hazratullah Zazai – the two Afghan openers, had a different mindset. Shahzad tried to charge down track against Starc in the very first ball against Starc and two deliveries later, got castled, while trying to play a cross batted shot to a full ball. Next over Zazai too got out caught behind trying to play an expansive drive through the covers. Both Afghan openers failed to get of the mark.
How on earth they can play such irresponsible shots when the team needed some solidity at the top?
“We are Afghans. We play flamboyant cricket and that’s our brand. We will continue to do that in future,” said the skipper Naib during a chat with author after the end of the game. “Someone like Shahzad is a dasher. So, if he plays for 10 overs, he can destroy any bowling line-up in the world. So, I am not at all worried about their approach.”
Nevertheless, after losing couple of wickets early unlike Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the Afghans did not throw in the towel. They recovered by showing a lot of guts to take on the Australian attack. And remember, unlike their other Asian counterparts, most these Afghan batsmen are not these batsmen lack experience and are not technically gifted. It is just their fighting spirits which kept them in the hunt.
However, irrespective of their counterattacking batsmenship, Afghanistan just reached a below par 207 thanks to the contributions of Rahmat Shah, Naib and Najibullah Zadran. Apart from the 85-run sixth wicket stand in the middle between Zadran and Naib, they never had any sort of momentum during their innings.
People like Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi did the hard work against the new ball, survived the difficult phase but gave their wickets away by playing lose shots against the leg-spin of Adam Zampa. Perhaps, against spin they dropped their guard a little and paid the price. In fact, in the warm-up game against England, Afghanistan batting faced the same issue as Joe Root took three wickets in the middle.
This has to be the major area of concern for coach Phil Simmons as they move forward this competition. Also, batting with flamboyance is fine, but a team like Afghanistan have to utilise their full 50 overs. On Sunday, when they were bowled out, there were 70 deliveries left in the innings. In modern-day cricket, this is nothing but shambolic.
While bowling, the comeback man Hamid Hassan bowled with a lot of fire. But luck was not in his favour. In hindsight, their much talked-about spin-trio, had a poor outing. The was no spin on offer from the surface and they failed to contain the Aussie batsmen. Overall, Afghanistan attack is capable of much better performance. In fact, at Bristol, they were so non-effective that at time it looked like the Australians were having an extended net session.
Overall, Afghanistan started of their World Cup campaign with a lot of flamboyance but there was hardly anything substantial to test a quality opponent like Australia.