By: Chinmay Vaidya
Afghanistan enters the 2018 Asia Cup as an upstart cricketing nation after recently taking down Bangladesh in a T20 series and rolling through Ireland in three ODIs. This will be Afghanistan's second appearance in the Asia Cup.
The focus of Afghanistan's team will be its spin attack led by a trio of budding stars. Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan were sublime in the series against Bangladesh and all three have been stars in global T20 leagues.
At 19, Khan is the deadliest of the lot. He's already racked up 108 ODI wickets on an economy of 3.92. Khan has forced opposing batting lineups to plan their strategy around him. At times in the IPL, teams avoided taking risks during Khan's overs entirely. Against Ireland, Khan took 8 wickets in three matches and built pressure to create opportunities for other bowlers.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman is also an up-and-coming spinner at age 17. He only took two wickets in the series against Ireland, but he's also been given the responsibility of bowling in the opening spell. Mujeeb has been fairly successful in limiting runs during the opening powerplay, but whether he can do it against top-level competition will determine Afghanistan's fate.
Nabi is the senior member of the spin triumvirate, but he's still supremely effective. Nabi took six wickets in the Ireland ODI series and benefitted from bowling with Khan in the middle overs. He's got 109 ODI wickets to his name and Afghanistan need him to be a factor in the Asia Cup.
Besides its three spinners, Afghanistan needs to show some batting power. Captain Asghar Afghan and Gulbadin Naib will have to take on the responsibility of scoring runs to provide the bowlers something to defend. It'll be interesting to see whether Afghanistan is able to handle the pressure of a chase should they be put in that situation.
Luckily, Afghanistan will avoid Pakistan and India in the group state. It will get to see Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and has had recent success against the latter. If Afghanistan can spring an upset against either squad, it'll have a great chance to advance to the Final Four stage.
Asghar Afghan (C), Mohammad Shahzad (WK) , Javed Ahmadi, Ihsanullah Janat, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shinwari, Munir Ahmad, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Aftab Alam, Sayed Shirzad.
Full 2018 Asia Cup coverage here.