It was a huge moment for Afghanistan’s national cricket team who played their second ever ODI against a top test playing nation when they locked horns with the Aussies at the Sharjah cricket stadium on Saturday. They last played against Pakistan in the month of February & it is time again to evaluate their strengths & weaknesses as they are gearing up to compete against the very best in this business.
Eventually Australia won the battle with a comfortable 66 run victory but not before the Afghans giving them a bit of scare in their run chase. The most striking aspect was their brilliant temperament which was evident throughout the game. Not even a single moment during the match it looked as if the Afghans have surrendered at the hands of their opposition much before the match was over. Instead they have been competent throughout this contest & in the process have managed to win numerous hearts all over the world.
We all know how mentally hard the Aussies are when they take the field but these Afghans matched their mental toughness & even gave them a bit of fight & embarrassment in the due coarse of this game. This is indeed a promising sign which signifies that Afghanistan wants to make a mark in this league & no one should take them for granted as they are capable of beating the very best any day soon.
Though I must add that they still have lot of improvements to make in the technicalities of their game primarily in batting which has been their weaker link of the three. By far Stanikzai has been the best in terms of batting technique. He goes to the line of the ball while playing, keeping his head steady which is why we have seen him stay at the wicket for a longer period on Saturday & managed to anchor the whole innings. Though I feel, if he plays the ball a little bit late specially if the pitch is on the slower side then he will be able to generate more timing to his strokes. His overall shot selection was good. But the degree of concentration needs to improve more. He was found loosing it at times when the wickets were falling from the other end & the asking rate kept increasing. He has to focus on his own game & have to understand his role in the team. At number three, the role usually is to anchor the innings & Asghar has all the qualities to donne this responsibility for his team.
Karim Sadiq has got lot of heart & possesses a good technique. He is also a good stroke player but at times becomes very aggressive & tries do things out of the way. He has to understand that international teams work out these weaknesses of opposition very quickly. Therefore he has to control his nerves & should play the balls as per it’s merit. Also while playing faster bowlers, it is very important to keep an eye on the ball until it passes you. If you don’t, then there are high risks of getting hit as it was evident in the case of Sadiq during the match. Starc was hostile with his pace & got the scare out of Karim soon when he realized his weakness. His attack needs to be mixed with caution as there is no point in throwing away your wicket by playing a loose shot. Karim has a good hand eye technique & should learn to value his wicket. His part time off spin is an added bonus to the team as he can quickly run through his spell in the power plays. Though I feel that he should be used judiciously in short spells specially when the left handers are at the crease. He has a nice uncomplicated action & maintains a good line.
Whatever I have seen off Mangal in the world T20 qualifiers & in these two ODI’s, I feel that he is a bit lazy upfront specially when he comes new to the crease. He should be much more focused & tighter in his technique & has to work more on his foot work balance while facing the delivery. Since his head drops a little too early just before committing to the shot, he is already off his balance & it creates problems for him when he is offered an off-cutter or an in-swinger, thus making him an ideal candidate for a leg before or bowled. The transfer of body weight is happening too early & he becomes vulnerable to incoming deliveries. He can however fix this minor issue by taking a slighter open chested stance with his elbow pointing little bit towards the mid wicket with his head held upright. Thus he will be able to be in a best possible position to play the the ball. Although he has been leading this team for long but should aim to contribute enough to earn his place in the team. Sometime it happens to the best of captains that he never gets enough time to work on his own game & thus can develop some minor technical issues with time.
Mohammad Shehzad is simply a character to watch. He certainly has loads of guts but should work more on his weight & fitness. He is undoubtedly overweight & should shed those extra calories if he has to prolong his career. He is also the wicket keeper of his team which means that he has to be on his toes all the time. Therefore he should increase his stamina & work more on his batting technique. I believe he is overly aggressive & should cut those extra risks which he usually takes without getting his eye in. He also has a tenacity to play his favorite cut shot without proper foot work too early in his innings. A cut is a high risk shot specially when there are fielders in the slips cordon waiting for you to make that mistake. Somehow Shehzad needs to curb his attacking instincts very early in his innings. These kind of risky shots are actually contributing to his downfall these days. Moreover I think he still hasn’t recovered from the hangover of that marathon innings of 214* which he played against Canada in the Intercontinental Cup couple of years ago & it somehow plays at the back of his mind while playing these days & he tries to dominate the bowlers in the same brutal fashion which he succeeded adopting two years ago. Instead he has to calm his nerves & improve his shot selection. He along with Stanikzai & Mangal are pillars of Afghanistan middle order. There has to be enough accountability amongst them to carry forward the middle order. If they can add consistency to their game which at the current moment is lacking, the lower middle order can play freely.
Nabi is a powerful guy & has the ability to clear the fence with ease. When he hits the ball, it generally stays hit. Though I feel he needs to tighten up his foot work as he has the tendency to play the ball without much of it. He has a good stance & because he is tall he can reach out to the spinners quickly & can time those sixes with ease. But he lacks in foot work for sure. The initial movement can be worked upon at any age. He is also good with his off spin & a great fielder. His two wickets & 46 runs against the spring-box were the main highlights of Saturday. Though I felt, he could have rotated the strike more with Asghar in those middle overs when the spinners were in operation as it would have eased the pressure of asking rate to an extent. Also these batsmen seem to hit the ball hard. Apart from Asghar & Shinwari, who I think has this ability to push the ball around with deft touches for singles & doubles, unfortunately not seen others who can maneuver the ball around. They should work on these aspects of their game. Shinwari is a busy player. He can rotate the strike well. I think he can be elevated up the order to bring more stability to the middle order. He is also good with his leg breaks. These two players are definitely the best all rounders of Afghanistan at the current moment apart from Karim.
Ahmadi & Najibullah are new kids to the block & have performed very well in the recently concluded under-19 world cup in Australia. They now have to adjust their mindset as the competitiveness of world cricket is mostly about your mind besides your skill. Both these kids have enough talent to represent their senior side & its just their adaptability to world cricket which will decide whether they will play for their country for a longer period or not. The quicker they learn, the better it is for them as well as their team.
Gulbadin is a live wire on the field. Currently he is the best fielder for Afghanistan & has got tremendous power when it comes to tonking the ball clean & hard out of the park. The way he was hitting Pattinson over the ropes the other day certainly speaks volumes about his batting prowess. He is a special talent & probably has got the best of techniques amongst all. He just needs to improve his shot selection to improve his batting consistency. But I have a small piece of advice for the captain & team management that he shouldn’t be encouraged to bowl on slow placid tracks against any international side. Somehow his bowling holds nothing special & doesn’t even look to scare the batsman out of his pace either. Just rolling your arms over isn’t a perfect advertisement of a bowler & Gulbadin should purely focus on his batting as he has loads of potential to deliver in that way.
Bowling in hot & humid conditions of Sharjah is not easy task. It dehydrates you fast. Due to this heavier atmosphere, it doesn’t allow you to have a good grip on the ball. As a result, we have witnessed lot of full tosses by the faster bowlers of either teams. I thought Shapoor bowled brilliantly up front even better than Dawlat. He bowled a fierce spell with lot of heart & also got Warner in the process. He was bending his back hard to generate good bounce & pace on a flatter deck which had virtually nothing. But when Hamid comes back, the skipper will have the option of finishing him off early as both Hamid & Dawlat are better death bowlers. Length balls at the death are as good as giving dollies. You got to have slowers & yorkers up your sleeves if you want to repute as a good death bowler. Anyway both the bowlers can be excused for the Saturday game since they were bowling to Mike Hussey, one of the world’s seasoned finisher who usually doesn’t spare any loose balls. Overall both of them looked good in tandem with their medium pace & with Hamid coming back soon in the team, the trio looks a potent attack for the opposition at least on papers. Though I don’t feel that there is any requirement to field all the three faster bowlers together in the T20 world cup as the pitches of Sri Lanka generally suits the slower bowlers more, which the Afghans have plenty in their repertoire.
Anyway the team will now head towards Trinidad & Tobago where they are to compete in a T20 cup against the teams from Bangladesh, T&T & Barbados between 6th to 8th of September. This tournament has come as a good opportunity to measure their strenghts & weaknesses ahead of the world cup since the deck of Port Of Spain is more familiar to the ones they will find in Sri Lanka. So there is a lot of tough cricket ahead for the team & the entire cricket crazy nation is anxiously praying hard for their success.
Sharjah Cricket Stadium
Afghanistan Vs Australia
25th August, 2012
AUS – 272/8 (50 overs) | Nabi 2/50(10), Karim 2/22(6)
AFG – 206/10 (43.5 overs) | Stanikzai 66(106), Nabi 46(60)
Result: Australia won by 66 runs
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