Afghanistan v Hong Kong
Bulawayo Athletic Club, Bulawayo
CWCQ Match 12
Thursday 8 March; 9:30 local time, 7:30 GMT
Afghanistan were one of the favourites to finish in the top two at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018 and make it to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, but after losses in their first two matches and confirmation that their regular captain is ruled out of the tournament, they have an uphill task to keep their campaign on track.
Rashid Khan, the stand-in captain, has said that Afghanistan will treat every match now as a final and they have little choice but to do exactly that. And a back-against-the-wall situation might be just the thing to help them rediscover their spark.
While Scotland had a clear plan to thwart their spinners, Rashid, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi found their groove against Zimbabwe, and the pacers kept things tight as well. Where they fell short was in the batting department.
Afghanistan’s batting has faltered often in the recent past, but they have usually had at least one player stand up to help tide over the crisis. They need that again, though not losing wickets in clumps is something they would want to do. With Mohammad Shahzad suspended for the next two matches over a Code of Conduct breach, their task has only got trickier.
Hong Kong’s batting too was made to look fragile by Scotland. Afghanistan would have made note of how they struggled against spin when they were bowled out for 91.
However, it is early days yet for Hong Kong, who have only played one match so far. They know they have the likes of Anshuman Rath, Babar Hayat, Nizakat Khan and Nadeem Ahmed, whose numbers with bat and ball speak well of his abilities. In a struggling Afghanistan, they might see the perfect opportunity to strike.
Mohammad Nabi (Afghanistan): The all-rounder has been one of Afghanistan’s greats, and has been in good form with bat and ball of late. He recorded scores of 92 and 51 in the first two matches and chipped in with a wicket in the match against Zimbabwe. Though his team lost both matches, his presence has been valuable. If he continues his form, especially with the bat, Hong Kong should be worried.
Ehsan Khan (Hong Kong): The off-spinner picked up three wickets in the opening game against Scotland, sparking a middle-order collapse and putting a check on the flow of runs. His ability to chip in with crucial strikes could be a threat for the opposition.
Both Afghanistan and Hong Kong have played at Bulawayo Athletic Club, without success. But they will benefit from the familiarity with the conditions. Hong Kong's encounter was a low-scoring affair. However, in Afghanistan's opener against Scotland, scores in excess of 250 were made. The temperature is expected to hover around 29ºC, with cloud cover but not much chance of rain.
Afghanistan: Rashid Khan (c), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Javed Ahmadi, Ihsanullah Janat, Najibullah Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Samiullah Shenwari, Nasir Jamal, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Afsar Zazai.
Hong Kong: Babar Hayat (c), Ahsan Abbasi, Nadeem Ahmed, Tanveer Ahmed, Tanwir Afzal, Waqas Barkat, Chris Carter (wk), Aizaz Khan, Ehsan Khan, Ehsan Nawaz, Nizakat Khan, Scott McKechnie, Anshuman Rath, Simandeep Singh and Shahid Wasif.