Afghanistan have risen up the ranks rapidly since the last World Cup. They have done better than all the other Asian teams after India. And yet, their performances in the ICC World Cup 2019 so far have been well below the expectations.
Let's look into the possible reasons behind such an underwhelming start:
#1 Asghar Afghan's removal as captain
With two months to go before the start of the World Cup, the selectors took the inexplicable decision of removing Asghar Afghan as the captain and replacing him with Gulbadin Naib.
Afghan is the most successful national captain with 31 wins out of 53 completed games. A man who led his team successfully to the World Cup 2019 after winning the qualifiers in Zimbabwe, was stripped of the captaincy after all the hard work he had put in.
One could argue that it was his batting that led to such a decision, but in that case he shouldn't have been in the team itself, which wasn't the case.
Also, Afghan averages 23 and got replaced by a player averaging 21, which again was a difficult pill to swallow. The real reasons behind the decision still remain a mystery; we can only assume politics being involved.
#2 Too much cricket for Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi
We often say that more the cricket, the better the exposure. But what gets forgotten is how that benefits batsmen and allows them to get used to a certain kinds of bowling.
That has been the case for Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi. They have been playing cricket all across the globe - be it the IPL, Big Bash or Caribbean Premier League. They have been playing non-stop cricket because of the opportunities they are being presented with.
But that has made them less effective in the World Cup. Their fatigue is showing in their lack of discipline with the ball.
Secondly, the batsmen have also started to find ways to tackle them. That has resulted in Rashid having got only 3 wickets and Nabi just 4 wickets in 3 games. Both are averaging a paltry 9 with the bat, which hasn't helped their cause either.
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#3 Hamid Hassan's lack of match fitness
The second highest wicket taker for Afghanistan in the 2015 World Cup disappeared from the scene post that tournament, only to reappear for the current edition.
Hassan has had injury concerns, and since the end of the 2015 World Cup has featured in just 3 out of the 63 games that Afghanistan have played. That pretty much sums up his story.
If Hassan had played a majority of the games between the two World Cups, he might have been a different player altogether given the talent he possesses - which was amply showcased in the previous edition.
#4 Inability to handle pressure
Lack of exposure has meant lack of experience at the highest level, which has resulted in an inability to handle pressure. And that has showed in their performances this World Cup so far.
The players have faltered in crunch situations with the bat and their fielding has been nothing less than shoddy. Dropped catches, misfields, reckless shots and not playing out the 50 overs are some examples of their inexperience. Lack of games against top opposition has perhaps left them gasping for air in this tournament.
Afghanistan have played three games so far and have lost them all. They could have won the match against Sri Lanka as they were in a commanding situation at one point, but they failed to capitalize on the key moments. With six more games to go, it remains to be seen whether they can turn things around.