Less than 24 hours before the 2023 ODI World Cup opener at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, the 10 captains sat in the banquet hall of the GCA Club House for a pre-World Cup press conference.
Former India coach Ravi Shastri, one of the two moderators, turned to Afghanistan’s captain, Hashmatullah Shahidi, and asked him how bowling was his team’s strength.
It sounded like a rhetorical question, but Shahidi’s response indicated a different nucleus.
“In this World Cup, our batting will also make a strong statement,” Shahidi said. Sitting to his right was Pakistan skipper Babar Azam, who turned and nodded his head in agreement.
After all, Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran, the dynamic opening partners, had recently added 227 against Babar’s full-strength team and 256 against Bangladesh, Afghanistan’s first opponent at the 2023 ODI World Cup.
The two teams will kickstart their campaigns away from the urban cauldrons, at the HPCA Stadium in Dharamsala, overlooked by the picturesque Dhauladhar range, where the bowlers can accurately be described to be running in from the Himalayas.
Afghanistan’s composition remains spin-centric, but it is its top-order batting that is encouraging.
However, the middle order remains more inclined towards powerful finishes than rebuilds. Even Rashid Khan is better suited for a lower-order biff, not a middle-overs spurt. Among the 15 players, there are only three left-handed batters, so leg spinners may enjoy taking on this line-up.
The last-minute inclusion of Naveen-ul-Haq and Fazalhaq Farooqi, the young left-armer with IPL experience, will perk up the seam bowling department. The venue’s openness and low stands allow the winds to blow across, giving the fast bowlers assistance.
However, the lack of ODI cricket in the last four years — it has played just 29 50-over matches — will be a worry for Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Bangladesh has had a topsy-turvy buildup. It got eliminated from the Super Four stage at the Asia Cup earlier this month and lost the three-match series against New Zealand at home 2-0 immediately after.
The omissions of Tamim Iqbal (back injury) and Ebadot Hossain (knee injury) have been major talking points.
Captain Shakib Al Hasan will be crucial with both the bat and the ball, leading the attack alongside experienced campaigners such as Taskin Ahmed and Mustafizur Rahman.
The 2020 Under-19 World Cup-winning quartet of Towhid Hridoy, Tanzid Hasan, Tanzim Hasan Sakib and Shoriful Islam hopes to bring that extra heat, extra noise, and extra will.
Afghanistan has the youngest squad in the tournament, with an average age below 25, and will look at grooming future stars.
Meanwhile, this World Cup could be a 50-over last hurrah for Shakib, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah, who have already proved themselves to be one of the best collections of white-ball cricketers Bangladesh has ever had.
/ 3 years ago
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