Afghanistan's fortunes once again hinge on spin

They have lost 14 of their 15 matches across ODI World Cups but could pose a challenge in Indian conditions

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
After two forgettable World Cups, Afghanistan are hoping for better returns in India  •  PCB

After two forgettable World Cups, Afghanistan are hoping for better returns in India  •  PCB

World Cup pedigree
Afghanistan have played only two ODI World Cups so far. In 2015, they lost five out of six games, their only win coming against Scotland. The 2019 edition was even more forgettable with nine losses in as many matches. This time, though, they are expected to fare much better with the pitches in India likely to suit their spinners.
Recent form
Not many teams have been able to beat Bangladesh in Bangladesh in the recent past. Afghanistan did that in July, winning the three-match ODI series 2-1. Since then, however, they suffered five successive defeats. They challenged Pakistan in all three matches in Sri Lanka but couldn't find that killer instinct and were whitewashed. Then, their Asia Cup campaign ended prematurely after an embarrassing net run rate miscalculation against Sri Lanka.
The squad once again is spin-heavy with Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman likely to feature in the playing XI, and Noor Ahmad on the bench. To strengthen their seam attack, they called up Naveen-ul-Haq, who last played an ODI in January 2021.
Hashmatullah Shahidi (capt), Ibrahim Zadran, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Rahmat Shah, Riaz Hassan, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Ikram Alikhil, Azmatullah Omarzai, Rashid Khan, Abdul Rahman, Noor Ahmad, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Naveen-ul-Haq
Key players
Irrespective of what side he is playing for, Rashid Khan is always a key player. But if Afghanistan are to improve their World Cup performance, they need Rashid to step up his game. His overall ODI record (172 wickets at an average of 19.53) is exceptional, but his numbers against Full Members who will be participating in this World Cup (41 wickets at 28.80) are ordinary. The good news is that with Hashmatullah Shahidi leading the side, Rashid can focus on his bowling.
Batting has been Afghanistan's weaker suit for many years but in Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran, they now have an opening pair that can not only give them quick starts but also big totals. They recently added 227 against a full-strength Pakistan attack, and have six centuries between them in the 18 ODIs they have played together.
Rising star
Fazalhaq Farooqi has played only 21 ODIs, but thanks to the IPL, PSL and Abu Dhabi T10, the left-arm seamer has already gone up against some of the biggest hitters in world cricket. Farooqi can swing the new ball, bowl yorkers and also possesses a slower one. If he can provide early breakthroughs, it will make the spinners' job a lot easier.
World Cup farewell
It's a young squad apart from one man who has been ever-present: Mohammad Nabi. Afghanistan have played 152 ODIs; Nabi 147. He was the Player of the Match when Afghanistan played their first ODI, in 2009. Now 38, Nabi, in all likelihood, is playing his last ODI World Cup. At the other end of the spectrum is Naveen-ul-Haq. The T20 globetrotter just turned 24, and has played only seven ODIs, but he has already announced that he will retire from ODIs at the end of this World Cup.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo