Afghanistan became the first team to qualify for the Super 4 round of the Asia Cup 2022. They were terrific in the group stage, thumping Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to seal their berth in the second round of the continental tournament.
Afghanistan’s first group match was against the Lankans in Dubai. They bowled first and did an excellent job to bundle out Sri Lanka for 105 in 19.4 overs. Left-armer Fazalhaq Farooqi stood out with figures of three for 11, while spinners Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi claimed two wickets each without giving away too many runs.
The batters then did the rest as openers Rahmanullah Gurbaz (40 off 18) and Hazratullah Zazai (37 off 28) added 83 in six overs.
Their performance against Bangladesh was equally emphatic. Bowling first after losing the toss, they held the opposition to 127 for seven. Najibullah Zadran (43* off 17) and Ibrahim Zadran (42* off 41) then combined to lift Afghanistan to a seven-wicket triumph.
While the Nabi-led outfit will be high on confidence after tasting amazing success in their group matches, here are three reasons why they might struggle in the Super 4 stage of the Asia Cup 2022.
#1 Lack of versatility in batting
This is one area where Afghanistan are likely to falter against consistent sides like India and Pakistan. They have a team full of big-hitters. There are only two modes in their batting arsenal – block it or hit it. However, rotating the strike is something that remains crucial even in the T20 format, especially when the big hits are hard to come by.
Pakistan opener Muhammad Rizwan gave a perfect illustration of how to score at a quick pace even when the boundaries are not coming as often as needed. He played the ball with soft hands and ran a number of twos against Hong Kong. In the end, although he hit only six fours and a six, Rizwan ended up with 78* off 57 balls, scoring at an impressive strike rate of 136.84.
Afghanistan do not have players who can do the same when the boundaries are hard to come by or the pitch is a tough one to bat on. If we look at their batting line-up, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, and Najibullah Zadran, all like to tonk the ball.
Ibrahim Zadran did play a steady 42-run knock off 41 balls against Bangladesh. The team needs more batters like him, who can adapt to the situation. As of now, that is definitely not the case.
#2 Inexperience against top sides
A number of Afghan players like Rashid Khan, Nabi and Mujeeb, among others, are a constant presence in T20 league tournaments around the globe. While the knowledge they gain from these events is helping them in international cricket for sure, they still lack experience when it comes to playing T20Is against big teams.
Afghanistan went into the T20 World Cup last year as one of the underdogs. They were expected to challenge the top sides. However, their lack of big-match experience proved to be their undoing. While they thumped Scotland and Namibia handsomely, they went down to India, Pakistan, and New Zealand to be knocked out ahead of the semi-finals.
The same reason could hurt their chances of progressing further in the Asia Cup 2022 as well. Afghanistan have the talent and the right attitude without a doubt, which is why they were able to get the better of both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the group stage. However, under pressure against top nations, they often crumble since they haven’t been there often enough.
#3 Overdependence on Mujeeb and Rashid
It would be unfair not to credit left-arm seamer Fazalhaq Farooqi for his stupendous bowling performance against Sri Lanka. His three for 11 stunned the Lankans and kept them on the back foot right through the match. Right-arm pacer Naveen-ul-Haq too has had his moments in the sun. However, it would be fair to say that Afghanistan are heavily reliant on spinners Mujeeb and Rashid in the bowling department.
Farooqi has made an impressive start to his T20I career, but the 21-year-old has only played 11 matches so far in the format for the country. Naveen-ul-Haq is also relatively new, having featured in 20 T20I matches. They have done a decent job, but expecting them to deliver consistently against the likes of India and Pakistan might be a bit too much at this nascent stage of their careers.
As is the case with the T20 franchises he plays for, Rashid could be the key for Afghanistan as well in the Asia Cup. His record speaks for itself – 115 wickets in 68 matches at an average of 13.73 and a superb economy rate of 6.16. Mujeeb also possesses an excellent T20I record. He has 43 scalps in 30 matches at an average of 15.69 and an economy rate of 6.13.
While Rashid and Mujeeb have the capability to deliver the goods against the likes of India and Pakistan, Afghanistan could be put under pressure if opponents target their other bowlers. This is where their mettle will be tested.