Sixteen-year-old Mujeeb Zadran, fresh from Afghanistan U-19's fourth-place finish at the World Cup in New Zealand and an IPL contract to boot, has been named in the senior team's 15-man squad for next month's World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe. The squad is unchanged from the 15-man group announced to take on Zimbabwe in a five-match ODI series later this month in Sharjah.
Mujeeb's successful debut series against Ireland in Sharjah in December instilled enough confidence in selectors to not only pick the teenager, but to also leave out left-arm spinner Amir Hamza, aged 26, who had been a mainstay of Afghanistan's T20I and ODI sides since his debut in 2012. Leaving Hamza at home is also a bold move due to his strong record in Zimbabwe where he is Afghanistan's joint-leading wicket-taker having claimed 15 scalps in nine matches there. Those wickets included the 3 for 20 in the series decider last February to help rout Zimbabwe for 54 in Harare.
Hamza played in all three T20Is and both ODIs in Afghanistan's tour of the West Indies in June, but despite being included in the ODI squad for the Ireland series in December was passed over for selection in all three games in favour of Mujeeb. Hamza was subsequently left out of the Afghanistan squad for this month's T20I and ODI series against Zimbabwe in the UAE.
Mujeeb, who was bought for INR 4 crore (USD 625,000 approx) by Kings XI Punjab in January's IPL auction, specialises in bowling with the new ball, just like Hamza. He took six wickets five matches at the 2018 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand including a sensational 4 for 14 in a quarterfinal win over the hosts. He joins legspinner Rashid Khan and allrounder Mohammad Nabi to form a potent spin trio, making Afghanistan a strong contender for one of the two spots available at the 2019 World Cup in England.
Besides Hamza, the other notable name to miss the cut is Hamid Hassan. The 30-year-old fast bowler spearheaded their bowling unit at the 2015 World Cup and produced a memorable performance against Sri Lanka to claim Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. However, the oft-injured Hassan hasn't played an ODI since July 2016.
Hassan was attempting to make a comeback this month after being named in the T20I squad to play Zimbabwe but was ruled out of the series after he injured himself in the team's training camp in Sharjah ahead of the first T20I. Hassan's injury concerns allow Shapoor Zadran to retain his spot despite a poor performance in his last ODI when he was thrashed by Paul Stirling to finish with 0 for 71 in seven overs in a loss to Ireland.
As expected, Mohammad Shahzad has been included after missing most of the last year due to an ICC suspension over a positive drug test. Shahzad's eligibility was reinstated on January 17, giving him time to get back into form against Zimbabwe in this month's series in the UAE. Samiullah Shenwari has also made the squad after being rested against Ireland in December. Batsman Noor Ali Zadran, wicketkeeper Afsar Zazai and fast bowlers Aftab Alam and Karim Janat have been announced as squad reserves for Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's five-match series against Zimbabwe in Sharjah ends on February 19, after which the squad departs for Zimbabwe ahead of their first official warm-up match against West Indies on February 27. Afghanistan has been placed in Group B for the World Cup Qualifier along with hosts Zimbabwe, WCL Championship winner Netherlands, reigning World Cup Qualifier title-holder Scotland, Hong Kong and whichever side finishes as the runner-up from WCL Division Two later this month - the tournament runs from February 8 to 15 in Namibia.