Afghanistan are in Group B of the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier, hoping to qualify for the tournament proper for the second time.
Afghanistan, one of the two new ICC Full Members along with Ireland, have taken massive strides since gaining ODI status in 2009.
A consistently improving team that has toppled Test-playing nations such as Bangladesh, Windies and Zimbabwe on more than one occasion, Afghanistan head into the Cricket World Cup Qualifier as the No.10 ranked side in the world and one of the favourites to qualify for the main event in England in 2019.
They are high on confidence, too, following a thumping 4-1 series win over Zimbabwe in Sharjah.
19 February – beat Zimbabwe by 146 runs in Sharjah
16 February – beat Zimbabwe by 10 wickets in Sharjah
13 February – beat Zimbabwe by 6 wickets in Sharjah
ICC CWCQ Group B
4 March – Scotland, Bulawayo Athletic Club, Bulawayo
6 March – Zimbabwe, Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo
8 March – Hong Kong, Bulawayo Athletic Club, Bulawayo
10 March – Nepal, Bulawayo Athletic Club, Bulawayo
Squad: Asghar Stanikzai (capt), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Javed Ahmadi, Ihsanullah Janat, Najibullah Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Samiullah Shenwari, Nasir Jamal, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran
Afghanistan have included Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the 16-year-old spin sensation, in their 15-man squad, and he, along with Rashid Khan and experienced all-rounder Mohammad Nabi, make for a formidable trio of twirlers.
Most of their players have been in terrific form. Rahmat Shah finished the five-match ODI series against Zimbabwe as the highest run-scorer from both sides with 272 runs in four innings at 68, while Mohammad Shahzad, the charismatic keeper-batsman, was also among the runs at the top of the order. Rashid was phenomenal with the ball, finishing as the highest wicket-taker in the series, and he will again be the backbone of the Afghan attack.
Cricket World Cup history
Afghanistan became an Associate Member of the ICC in 2013. They qualified for the 2015 Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand after finishing second behind Ireland in the World Cricket League Championship in 2013.
They started their maiden campaign with defeats against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, but pulled off a one-wicket win over Scotland for a historic victory.
What needs to go right for Afghanistan to qualify?
Placed 10th in the MRF Tyres ICC Men’s ODI Team Rankings, ahead of Zimbabwe and Ireland, Afghanistan evidently have the class, but it will be more about keeping calm in crunch situations.
With ex-West Indies all-rounder Phil Simmons as coach and Asghar Stanikzai marshalling the troops, Afghanistan have most bases covered. Rashid, Nabi and Mujeeb will again form the crux of the bowling unit. In the batting department, they will hope for Shahzad to fire at the top of the order, while Stanikzai, Nabi and Rahmat offer stability through the middle overs.
They have got the better of exchanges against Group B opponents Zimbabwe in recent times, but a change in conditions will add to the challenge. They will back themselves to clear the group stage and hope to avoid any slip-ups after that.