Afghanistan continue to go from strength to strength in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup but have not yet shattered the glass ceiling and secured a semi-final spot.
The destination for this year’s tournament – Australia – may be the biggest hurdle for Jonathan Trott’s squad to overcome, with a bowling attack better suited to spinning pitches and home conditions.
The former England star’s side secured an automatic spot in the Super 12 by virtue of their seventh-place finish at the 2021 World Cup – their best finish in the tournament to date.
Afghanistan are no strangers to the Super 12 stage and will be looking to bridge the gap to the world’s best. Having beaten the two lowest-ranked sides in their group at the last World Cup, they will be hopeful of a major scalp in 2022.
If they are to achieve a best ever Super 12 finish, they must beat one of Australia, England or New Zealand, though they are yet to record a single victory against one of the world’s current top six.
The captaincy of 37-year-old Mohammad Nabi could be key given his experience of playing major T20 tournaments across the globe.
He will again be at the forefront of a spin-heavy attack but whether that they can get the requisite turn to trouble the world’s best attacks in Australia remains to be seen.
T20 World Cup History
Afghanistan have been an ever-improving force since their first World Cup appearance in 2010.
Their first ever T20I fixture came in February of that year against Ireland, and just a few months later they were thrust into a World Cup group alongside heavyweights India and South Africa.
It was not until their third tournament that they tasted victory for the first time, chasing down Hong Kong’s 153 off just 18 overs, though it was not enough to seem them through to the knockout stage.
That status finally arrived in 2016, when a hat-trick of group stage victories saw them through to the Super 10, where they were pulled off a thrilling six-run victory over eventual champions West Indies in the pair’s first ever international meeting.
Now household names of T20 cricket, the ever-present Nabi and Rashid Khan finished with identical figures of two for 26 as Daren Sammy and co were left red-faced.
Last year, they qualified automatically for the knockout phase for the first time in their history, by virtue of their impressive results at the previous tournament.
Comfortable wins were secured against Scotland and Namibia and the ambition must now be to rediscover the magic of 2016 and overcome one of cricket’s established forces.
Results ahead of the World Cup have swung one way and another since Afghanistan’s preparations ramped up in June.
They got off to a flying start with a routine 3-0 series win over Zimbabwe but were swiftly brought back down to earth after a 3-2 defeat in Ireland.
Results have continued to fluctuate since then but the highlight was undoubtedly an eight-wicket victory against Sri Lanka in the 2022 Asia Cup, with the 2014 T20 champions bowled out for 105 in a memorable victory in Dubai.
Captain Nabi and vice-captain Najibullah Zadran certainly led by example at last year’s World Cup in UAE and Oman.
Zadran top-scored for his country with 172 throughout the tournament and a high score of 73, while Nabi’s average of 63.50 was streets ahead of his nearest teammate.
Rahmanullah Gurbaz promised much ahead of the last World Cup but the 20-year-old struggled to make a lasting impression.
He has since hit two ODI hundreds – against the Netherlands and Bangladesh – and will hope that this is the tournament which sees him deliver on his potential.
The conditions down under may not be best suited to Afghanistan, who so often rely on the star trio of Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman to spin them to victory.
So, the addition of right-arm quick Saleem Safi is an astute one and he will be expected to support Naveen-ul-Haq, who is the only out-and-out quick to retain his place from the last World Cup, with Karim Janat and Gulbadin Naib omitted from the 15-man squad.