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Afghanistan focus on improving batting to support their spin superstars

A group of young, exciting top-order batters are working with new coach Jonathan Trott at the Asia Cup

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Afghanistan get together after Naveen-ul-Haq got Curtis Campher, Ireland vs Afghanistan, 3rd T20I, Belfast, August 12, 2022

At the Asia Cup, Afghanistan are in a group of death and a slip-up against Sri Lanka or Bangladesh could mean curtains to their campaign  •  Sportsfile/Getty Images

Afghanistan's strength has always been their spin attack led by Rashid Khan, but now the focus is shifting towards building a strong batting line-up under the guidance of new coach Jonathan Trott.
Trott comes with tremendous pedigree as a former England batter, and he's also got coaching experience with England's Under-19 and Lions teams. As he settles into the Afghanistan job, Trott will have to adjust to the fact that coaches don't always get to see a player perform at domestic level before they make the step up to international cricket.
Afghanistan begin their Asia cup campaign against Sri Lanka on Saturday and they come into the tournament with a solid build-up behind them, having played five T20Is against Ireland in Belfast earlier this month. Though Afghanistan lost that series - Trott's first as coach - 3-2, there were plenty of encouraging performances to build on, especially in the batting department. Prior to the Ireland tour, they had swept a series 3-0 in Zimbabwe.
Afghanistan arrived in the UAE a week ago and had a camp in Abu Dhabi before shifting base to Dubai. They are in the tougher group and know that a slip-up against Sri Lanka or Bangladesh could mean an early exit from the Asia Cup. And while spin will continue to be their primary strength, it is the batting that could make or break Afghanistan's campaign.
Najibullah Zadran, their vice-captain, knows a thing or two about developing as a T20 batter. When he broke through in 2012, he was known to be technically correct, a player who puts a price on his wicket. But the Najibullah of 2022 is different, at least going by his recent record and the net sessions Afghanistan have had.
Najibullah and the rest of Afghanistan's batting group worked on range hitting as much as developing a tighter defence. There's been greater focus on footwork, picking lengths and developing different options for similar deliveries.
Najibullah knows he carries significant responsibility in the batting line-up after his success in Ireland, where he showed off his ability to bat aggressively and set up big totals. In the third T20I, he made an 18-ball 42, having come into bat in the 14th over. In the fourth game, he made 50 off 24 balls after beginning his innings in the fourth over. Along with Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Najibullah is crucial to a young batting line-up looking to carve an identity amid the superstars in the team.
"We've been talking to Jonathan a lot," Najibullah said. "He brings plenty of experience, having played for England for so many years. He has been helping us cope with pressure and different situations and talking to us about having different mindsets for different situations. We'll need it as we prepare for this tournament.
"The main focus is on our batting department, especially the top order. We've got big hitters in the lower order who can cash in, in the death overs. In our bowling, we've got one of the best spin line-ups and a couple of good seam bowlers. But yes, primarily top-order batting is our big focus area."
"He has been helping us cope with pressure and different situations and talking to us about having different mindsets for different situations."
Najibullah on head coach Trott
Najibullah believes Afghanistan's top order has taken giant strides towards being more consistent. The experience of playing Rashid and the mystery spin of Mujeeb Ur Rahman in the nets has helped them develop plans to counter tough challenges.
"Rashid is world-class, we all know that," Najibullah said. "He has so many variations, he varies his pace, lengths and line. We've been playing with each other for six-seven years, so we're used to him. The more you play him, it gives you an advantage straightaway.
"There isn't much to say about our spin department. But even in the fast bowling, we have a couple of youngsters - Fazalhaq Farooqi and Naveen-ul-Haq. We've mainly been talking of controlling pressure in big moments. Trott has been talking to the boys on these aspects. So overall, we're a good team and we are looking forward to doing well."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo