Afghanistan have already announced a 23-man preliminary squad for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.
It will be just their second appearance at the World Cup, but Afghanistan are already touted as dark horses for the 10-team tournament. With their heady mix of youth and experience, they appear a side capable of springing surprises against their more fancied rivals at the mega-event, which begins in England and Wales on 30 May.
However, with the squad expected to be announced shortly, there remain a few questions that the Asian side need to answer. Let's take a look at five of those.
1. Afghanistan tested their bench strength in the five-match ODI series against Ireland in Dehradun this year, trying multiple combinations in their playing XI. They also experimented with their batting options, and four players – Mohammad Shahzad, Hazratullah Zazai, Javed Ahmadi and Noor Ali Zadran – were trialled at the top of the order.
While Shahzad and Zazai are known to be aggressive batsmen, Zadran could offer solidity, which Afghanistan have at times lacked. Rahmat Shah too has had an impressive season – does he come in place of Zadran at the top of the order?
2. Not too long back, the Afghanistan Cricket Board made a surprising call to remove Asghar Afghan from captaincy in all formats of the game. Gulbadin Naib replaced him at the helm in ODI cricket, while Rashid Khan was named the vice-captain. While the move wasn't received too well by some Afghanistan players at the time, the decision now seems set in stone.
3. Afghanistan's biggest strength is their spin-bowling, but seamers will be important on the flat tracks in England and Wales, especially if there's a hint of swing on offer on cloudy days. In Dawlat Zadran, Aftab Alam, and skipper Naib, they have a decent pace attack to complement their slower bowlers. However, in a tournament where all teams will play each other in a round robin format, squad depth is vital, especially in the seam department.
Which pacer can fill in as the reserve in the 15-member squad?
4. Afghanistan have a world-class spin-bowling attack comprising of Mohammad Nabi, Rashid, and Mujeeb ur Rahman. The trio have been excellent over the last couple of years, and have claimed heaps of wickets everywhere they have played.
The three have picked up 54 wickets between them in the last 12 months, while the rest of the bowling lineup have just claimed 26.
5. While Mujeeb is a terrific white-ball bowler, unlike Rashid and Nabi, he does not offer much with the bat. However, there are some injury concerns over the mystery spinner ahead of the World Cup, and Afghanistan must consider having a replacement ready for the teenager.
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