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T20 World Cup 2024: Afghanistan bowlers ticked all boxes, but work needs to be done on batting

T20 World Cup 2024: Afghanistan lost to South Africa in semi-final. In their journey, bowlers played a huge role while batting was the biggest let down. Things Afghanistan to work out in order to beat big teams consistently.


T20 World Cup 2024: Afghanistan lost to South Africa in semis | Walking Wicket (Source: ©ICC/X)
Afghanistan lost to South Africa in semis (Source: ©ICC/X)

Afghanistan's journey in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2024 was nothing short of inspirational, culminating in a historic semi-final appearance. Yet, their exit against South Africa highlighted a persistent issue: the inconsistency of their batting line-up. While their bowlers shone brightly throughout the tournament, the batters needed to mature significantly to ensure future success.


Riding on the bowlers' backs

Afghanistan's bowling attack was the cornerstone of their success. Fast bowlers Fazalhaq Farooqi and Naveen-ul-Haq were exceptional, claiming 17 and 13 wickets, respectively. Their ability to exploit conditions, especially during night matches, played a pivotal role in Afghanistan's victories over heavyweights like New Zealand and Australia. The presence of West Indies legend Dwayne Bravo as a bowling consultant further sharpened their skills.


However, there was some childishness from the Afghanistan side which came to the surface during the semi-final clash when instead of steading the innings the players kept playing their shots. As a result, the team was bundled out for 56, their lowest T20I total against ICC's full-member nations. The batters, especially the middle order, led down Afghanistan not just in the semi-final but throughout the tournament. This is true except for some cameos played by Gulabdin Naib, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan whenever required. 



Openers shine, Middle Order falters

Openers Rahmanullah Gurbaz (281) and Ibrahim Zadran (231) were standout performers, amassing a combined total of 522 runs. They recorded three 100-plus partnerships, a feat only achieved before by the Pakistan pair of Babar Azam and Muhammad Rizwan. Their partnership of 154 runs against Uganda was the second-highest first-wicket stand in T20 World Cup history. However, this reliance on the openers highlighted a glaring issue: the lack of support from the middle order.


The middle order’s failure was evident, as they could not capitalise on the strong starts provided by Gurbaz and Zadran. The semi-final against South Africa underscored this weakness. Despite the openers' success, Afghanistan's middle order crumbled, failing to chase a modest target on a pitch that was not conducive to high-scoring. Head coach Jonathan Trott acknowledged this issue, stressing the need for more consistent middle order batters.


With openers scoring 200+ runs each, their third-leading run scorer was Ashmatullah Omarzai with mere 111 runs at an average of 13.29, followed by Gulbadin Naib (90), Rashid Khan (57), Mohammad Nabi (56) and Karin Janat (43). The performance of the middle order was so poor that except for the Naib, no other batter was able to cross the 30-run mark in any of the matches.


T20 World Cup 2024_ Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran held Afghanistan batting _ Walking Wicket (Source_ ©ICC_X)
Gurbaz and Zadran both scored over 200 runs in WC (Source: ©ICC/X)
The need for maturity and depth

Afghanistan's over-reliance on their openers cannot continue if they aspire to be a top-tier team. The middle-order batters must develop the ability to play various roles, whether rescuing the innings after a top-order collapse or capitalising on a solid start. Trott emphasised the need to find quality top and middle-order batters to reduce the burden on the openers.


The Afghanistan batting line-up must also adapt to different conditions. While they thrived on slow, sluggish pitches in the Caribbean, they struggled on batting-friendly surfaces. Their loss to West Indies and the semi-final defeat on a seam-friendly track exposed their vulnerability. Developing players who can perform on diverse pitches will be crucial for Afghanistan's progress.


Another issue Rashid Khan and the team management need to address is the need to create options for the openers, considering if any batter gets injured. With Mohammad Nabi on the cusp of his retirement they will have to find a finisher or a power-hitter who can hit the ball long at will. This is a skillset that the squad lacks at the moment. 



Temperament under pressure

Another area needing improvement is the team's temperament in high-pressure situations. While Afghanistan has proven their skill, they often appear nervous and out of sorts under pressure. Consistent performance in big events and learning from these experiences are vital for building confidence and composure. Rashid Khan, who was reprimanded by the ICC for throwing a bat at his own teammate, and his team need to start absorbing the pressure and play according to the match situations. They showed glimpses of strong temperament during the game against Australia when Glenn Maxwell was taking on their bowlers. 


Looking forward

Despite the disappointment of their semi-final exit, Afghanistan have made significant strides in recent years. Their performance in the 2023 ODI World Cup, where they defeated top-ranked teams like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and England, and their maiden T20 World Cup semi-final appearance demonstrate their potential. However, the next step in their evolution requires the batting line-up to mature and support their world-class bowlers.


The journey ahead for Afghanistan's cricket team is challenging but promising. With focused efforts on developing a balanced and mature batting line-up, they can aspire to reach greater heights in international cricket. As they continue to learn and grow, the cricketing world will be watching their progress with keen interest.


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