Afghanistan climbed from rock bottom to top of the world in a truly remarkable turnaround that will live long in the memory.
Overall grade: A
Lost to Scotland by 7 wickets
Lost to Zimbabwe by 2 runs
Lost to Hong Kong by 30 runs (DLS method)
Beat Nepal by 6 wickets
Beat West Indies by 3 wickets
Beat UAE by 5 wickets
Beat Ireland by 5 wickets
Beat West Indies by 7 wickets
Positives to take home
Having come into the tournament in excellent form, Afghanistan’s scarcely believable run in the Cricket World Cup Qualifier began disastrously. They lost their first three matches – against Scotland, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong – to leave their chances of progressing hanging by a thread. The fact that they ended up winning the whole tournament speaks of the scale of their turnaround and the elation they can carry with them from hereon.
Only other results conspiring in their favour meant Afghanistan went through to the Super Six stage, and even then they progressed with zero points on the board. But a win against the West Indies got the show back on the road and the return of their captain Asghar Stanikzai refocused the team, who after a win against the UAE were handed a final chance to qualify as Zimbabwe lost to the same opposition and West Indies knocked out Scotland on DLS. In a direct shootout against Ireland, Afghanistan performed when it really counted to secure qualification. Finally they completed a remarkable turnaround by beating the Windies to take home the trophy.
The return to form of the talismanic Rashid Khan – who appeared to struggle under the burden of captaincy before the return of Stanikzai – will have comforted the whole set-up, and he eventually became the fastest man to reach 100 ODI wickets. His spin companion, the 16-year-old Mujeeb Ur Rahman, continued to build on his rapidly growing reputation, finishing the tournament with 4/43 in the final.
Mohammad Shahzad also looked back to his best in the final, hitting 84 after what had been a tournament dogged by injury, suspension and loss of form.
Most of all, having returned from the brink of disaster to win the trophy, Afghanistan will now carry with them a robust belief that they are never beaten.
Areas to improve
At times when Rashid didn’t perform to the level to which world cricket has become accustomed, it became clear just how dependant on him Afghanistan can be. That said, Mujeeb maintained his good form and has now made himself equally indispensable.
Stanikzai, who returned early after appendix surgery, will no doubt have been alarmed just how rapidly things started to fall apart in his absence during the early stages of the tournament – with the collapse against Hong Kong a particularly low point.
While they continue to strive for consistency in their batting line-up, the key is keeping their special spin twins firing to imbue the rest of the team with confidence.
It has to be Mujeeb. The mystery spinner now has 35 wickets in just 15 ODIs – at an average of 16.62. He took 17 of those wickets in the Qualifier, including a total of seven against the Windies over the course of two matches. With the tournament finishing a few days before his 17th birthday, world cricket can be very excited about what this highly talented young man has to offer in the future.