No. 8s aren't quite batsmen; neither are they tailenders. They fit somewhere in between, with the skills to hold a bat, but without the necessary behavioural traits that allow them to do it for hours. No. 8s generally either hit or block, they rarely run brilliantly between the wicket, they struggle with real pace and quality spin, play slog shots or get out in soft ways, and often don't play the best shots for the situation.
Afghanistan are a team of No. 8s.
Since the last World Cup, Afghanistan have played 64 ODIs against teams of vastly differing skill levels. In those they have ten individual hundreds. To put that in perspective, Virat Kohli will score more hundreds by the time you finish reading this sentence. Afghanistan's rate of hundreds is lower than every team in this World Cup, and also Zimbabwe and Ireland. Only Sri Lanka (a hundred every 6.2 matches) come anywhere close to being as poor as Afghanistan's record.
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Afghanistan have no players since the last World Cup averaging 40, and four over 30. One of those is Mohammad Shahzad, whose batting is built for parties, not long innings. Against Australia, he played a shot that belonged in the first over as much as an ox smoking a cigarette. He made a half-volley look like a length ball and ended up sprawled as if undone by an excellent yorker. It was an okay ball and a terrible shot.
Hazratullah Zazai's average is 20.33 in his short career so far, and his shot to Cummins the over after Shahzad's abomination was like he'd been reading the Jos Buttler manual but with a few pages missing.
At No. 3 was Rahmat Shah. You could make a solid argument that Rahmat is Afghanistan's only real ODI-quality batsman. He averages 38.90 and has four ODI hundreds since the last World Cup; even if they don't come quick, he can bat. He kept the batting together for the longest time before finding short cover on a drive.
Hashmatullah Shahidi averages 36.50, but at the painfully slow strike rate of 66.03. He bats like a man hanging in, and eventually here he was out stumped trying to defend a ball from Adam Zampa. Which has to be close to the worst dismissal in ODI cricket. His strike rate was 52.94.
In at No. 5 was Mohammad Nabi, a quality T20 hitter, but no one's idea of an ODI five. He averages 28.80 since 2015 and hits the ball hard. He was run out when he knocked one to the left of Steven Smith and had his team-mate (and captain) Gulbadin Naib was so busy watching the fielding he didn't respond to the call.
"Considering how Sri Lanka and Pakistan batted in their opening games, Afghanistan's was a decent effort"
Naib (average 24.44), joined with the power-hitting Najibullah Zadran who has probably been their best batsman in ODIs, averaging 34.75 while striking at 95.63. But he's someone they want to come in low and provide fireworks. When the score is 77 for 5, you have to dig in. And he did, he was two off 11 balls, before Zampa gave him two full tosses, a tossed-up half-volley and a short ball, off which Najibullah scored 20. Against Zampa he was 31 off 14, against the pacers 20 from 35. Naib got some balls away, and they made a decent partnership of 83.
In the 34th over, Marcus Stoinis was bowling short balls - Australia's bowlers delivered 18% of their deliveries like this - with mid-off and mid-on up. Naib tried to swing the short ball over midwicket and skied it and was gone. Four balls later and with Naib barely off the ground, Najibullah went for a big pull shot over midwicket and skied the ball and was caught. Stoinis had two caught behinds with Alex Carey in the outfield.
It was then that Afghanistan's literal No. 8, Rashid Khan came out to bat, and he was with Dawlat Zadran a handy player in his own right. Dawlat was out pulling a ball he was lucky to have his body nowhere near. Rashid slogged some of his own-brand sixes and Afghanistan had made 207.
Considering how Sri Lanka and Pakistan batted in their opening games, it was a decent effort. It's just that it is hard to see them doing much better than this consistently. They can all sort of hit, but almost none can really bat. They didn't handle the new ball or the short stuff, gifted legspin wickets, had a stupid run-out, there was only one quality ODI partnership, and their highest score was 51.
When asked if they had the best spinners in the pre-match conference, Naib praised his bowlers, then added, "but we should be working [on] the batting line-up". After this match, where they lost two wickets at the top and two wickets in an over, you'd think they'd need to continue to work on it.
As good as their bowling is, 250 is a minimum to give their bowlers a decent chance.
Australia were uninspiring, and as Zampa said, "probably didn't bowl as well as we could have through the middle overs". But by changing Zampa around and keeping the ball short they kept control of the game. Instead of going for the kill, it seemed more like Australia were banking that something silly would follow. They were right.
Afghanistan have a T20 batting line up with agricultural methods and short attention spans. It won't work often, but because so many of their players are dangerous, it will be fun occasionally. But at the moment it looks like Afghanistan's batsmen are here for a good time, not a long one.