2018 has been the most significant year in the history of Afghanistan Cricket. First, they emerged as the winners of the ICC WC Qualifiers 2018 to book a place in the ICC WC 2019. Then, they gained Test status and played their maiden Test against India. Later on, they defeated Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and tied a match with India in the Asia Cup. Recently, they completed the inaugural edition of their new T20 league, Afghanistan Premier League.
Mohammad Nabi’s Balkh Legends were the winners of the inaugural edition of APL. APL 2018 is evidence of the abundance of cricketing talent in Afghanistan. Besides, a plethora of overseas stars once again showed their class in the newly launched league.
With the auction for the Indian Premier League 2019 season scheduled next month, let us look at five standout performers from APL 2018 who can bang an IPL contract in the upcoming auction.
#5 Qais Ahmad (Afghanistan)
Qais Ahmed is the latest addition in Afghanistan’s long list of talented spin bowlers. The 18-year old leggie bagged the MOM award in the recently concluded APL final. Playing for eventual champions Balkh Legends, he registered his maiden 5-wicket haul against Rashid Khan’s Kabul Zwanan.
In nine games, he picked up 15 wickets at an impressive economy rate of 6.26. Even in the 2018 ICC U19 WC, he was the joint highest wicket-taker. Within a short span, he had already earned contracts from Caribbean Premier League and Bangladesh Premier League. He represented St Lucia Stars in the recent edition of CPL. Recently, Rajshahi Kings signed him for the upcoming season of BPL
Since leg spinners are labelled as ‘most wanted’ in the limited-overs format, it will not be a massive surprise if Qais lands an IPL contract in the upcoming auction.
#4 Hazratullah Zazai (Afghanistan)
On October 14, 2018, Hazratullah Zazai, an unknown cricketer from Afghanistan, shocked the cricketing community with his whirlwind knock in the 14the league match between Balkh Legends and Kabul Zwanan. In the massive run chase of 245, the young opener provided the perfect platform for Kabul Zwanan as he smashed 62 runs from just 17 deliveries.
In his onslaught, he smashed six 6s in an over and reached his 50 in just 12 deliveries. Abdullah Mazari was the poor bowler on that occasion. With that knock, he joined the elite club of cricketers who had cracked six maximums in an over - Garry Sobers (West Indies), Ravi Shastri (India), Herschelle Gibbs (South Africa) and Yuvraj Singh (India).
Earlier in the tournament, he also scored his maiden T20 century against Nangarhar Leopards. In that sixth league match, he amassed 124 runs from 55 balls with 12 4s and nine 6s. He finished second in the batters chart at the end of the tournament with 322 runs from 10 games. A strike rate of 193.97 has already earned him a BPL contract last week. Dhaka Dynamites signed the explosive opener for the upcoming season.
#3 Laurie Evans (England)
Laurie Evans, the Sussex batsman, was one among the standout batsmen in the first season of APL. Representing Kabul Zwanan, he scored 305 runs from 9 innings. He had three 50+ scores and remained not out in four of his nine innings.
He made his name in the very first match of APL. In the opening match against Paktia, Kabul almost crumbled in their run chase of 219. Even though wickets continued to fall around him, Evans stood firm and mastered a hugely successful run chase. He scored 79 runs from just 39 balls and finished the match with five balls to spare.
Evans continued his master-class throughout the APL as he became a reliable finisher for Kabul. Though he faltered in the final, his performances in the rest of the tournament showed his skill level and temperament. His successful stint at the APL has fetched him a BPL contract for the upcoming season. He will be representing Rajshahi Kings in this season.
Rajasthan Royals, who lacked a solid middle-order batsman in the last season, can acquire the services of Evans to strengthen their middle-order.
#2 Isuru Udana (Sri Lanka)
Isuru Udana was added to the Paktia Panthers squad at the very last moment before the start of the tournament. The tall Sri Lankan fast bowler has had a poor international career as he managed to play only 2 ODIs and 18 T20Is.
However, over the years, Udana has slowly started to develop his bowling skills in the shortest format of the game. He often troubles the batsmen with his deceptive slower balls. He was the leading wicket-taker in the maiden season of APL with 17 wickets from eight matches.
Besides, he picked up at least a single wicket in all of his eight games. This high level of consistency has recently fetched him a BPL contract. He will join Qais Ahmed and Laurie Evans in the Rajshahi Kings for the forthcoming BPL season.
A brilliant economy rate of 7.65 in APL can surely attract bids from a team like Royal Challengers Bangalore, who are still searching for an excellent death-over bowler.
#1 Mohammad Shahzad (Afghanistan)
Mohammad Shahzad, Afghanistan’s premier wicket-keeper batsman, is perhaps in the form of his life. First, he starred in the ICC WC Qualifier 2018 final by scoring 84 runs against West Indies. Then, he had a stellar Asia Cup 2018 as he scored 268 runs five innings. He cracked an excellent century against India in the famous ‘tied’ match.
Recently, he had a brilliant APL season, as he was the tournament’s leading run-getter with 344 runs from 9 innings. He notched up four 50+ scores with an impressive strike rate of 174.61. He was declared as the ‘Batsman of the Tournament’.
Apart from providing explosive starts at the top, Shahzad is an excellent keeper behind the stumps. Since every team will look to capitalize on the Powerplay, a player of Shahzad’s calibre will be a great addition to any outfit.
Just like other players in the list, Shahzad will also play in the upcoming BPL, as he will represent Chittagong Vikings.