The Moments Of The Volatile And Shine The Bat Is Not Enough For Afghanistan > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - Moments of fleeting brilliance with the bat not enough for Afghanistan
There were two dreamy straight drives from Noor Ali Zadran early on in Taunton, one off Matt Henry, the other off Trent Boult. Hashmatullah Shahidi laced a crisp cover drive off Colin de Grandhomme later on, a gorgeous back foot punch for four by Najibullah Zadran off Jimmy Neesham followed and, ridiculously, an on-drive from number 11 Hamid Hassan to rival any of them. Hazratullah Zazai's early swipe for six off Henry won't win many beauty contests but went out of the ground nonetheless. Moments of class from Afghanistan yet far, far too fleeting amongst the ordinariness.
This was their third poor batting display from three attempts. They have failed to bat more than 41.1 overs in any game. Afghanistan's warm-up win against Pakistan, chasing down 262, has thrown everyone off course. It was a cool, calm run chase, secured with relative ease despite a late wobble. In their last proper ODI before the World Cup, they made more than 300 against Ireland. Good, solid efforts both and more of the same was expected. They have resembled a deck of cards since.
Moments of exquisite timing or shots which make you sit up and take notice are all fine and dandy. Who doesn't love a Zazai slog over mid-wicket for six? Well, Henry probably doesn't but you get the drift. Yet these one-off moments of class aren't enough. They aren't enough to get Afghanistan to competitive totals. They aren't enough to give their much-vaunted spinners something to bowl at.
Only Shahidi, last man out for 59, offered much of the good stuff today. It took him 20 balls to get off the mark. After he faced his 24th delivery, with just one run to his name, he was loudly heckled by someone in the crowd. The gist of the sledge was that he needed to get on with it. But why would you get on with it when you're pretty confident that your team could do something daft at any time like, say, lose three wickets for no runs? No wonder he was taking his time.
The worst thing about this effort was that Afghanistan got the good start they wanted after being reduced to 57 for five by Australia and 77 for five against Sri Lanka in their previous two matches. They were 66 without loss today and then lost three wickets for no runs, wiping out all that good work. They lost their fifth and sixth wickets inside three balls, too. In all, they lost ten for 106.
New Zealand bowled well enough on a pitch which offered the seamers a little but there were some terribly meek shots from Afghanistan. Noor Ali was caught down the leg-side off a Lockie Ferguson lifter when a square-leg and leg-gully had just been put in place, signalling the ball was going to be directed short and at the body. To then glove the next delivery, pitched in that very manner, was naive. Later, captain Gulbadin Naib flashed at a ball that otherwise would have been a wide and was caught behind. Then, to compound his error, he reviewed it. They heard the edge in Bristol.
Just after the second rain break, Mohammad Nabi, who has scored just 27 runs in the tournament to date, tried to play an unwise dab and nicked it. Three balls later, Najibullah, who batted well in the previous two games, was also caught behind, playing a ball from Jimmy Neesham as if Joel Garner had delivered it. Then Rashid Khan headbutted a length ball which cannoned into the stumps and Ikram Alikhil plopped a gentle dobber from de Grandhomme to point.
Aside from the first ten overs when Noor Ali and Zazai played nicely, New Zealand barely broke a sweat. They didn't have to. The poor shot selection and decision making of their opponents saw to that, as Naib admitted after the game.
Gone are the days when Afghanistan should be patronised with the tag of plucky underdogs, ignoring the nuts and bolts of their performances. They are too good for that, a Test match nation now. Of course they are still work-in-progress but they need to be held to the same standards as every other team at this World Cup. And by any standard, their execution and decision-making with the bat was well under-par yet again.
These are not new mistakes either. The ability to bat long has deserted them, simply batting their full allotment of overs a challenge too far right now. Many of these players have been brought up on short format cricket, using T20 to make their names and improve their games. They look like a team of T20 batsmen, unsure whether to stick or twist, seemingly able to play in only two tempos, all-out attack or all-out defence, and unable to mould their mindsets to the longer format.
Against lesser attacks, their current crash, bang, wallop approach may get the job done. Against better bowlers, it simply won't.
In the 19 matches Afghanistan have played during the last year, including this one, their batsmen have registered just six scores of 80 or more. In comparison, New Zealand have made 11 in 17 matches. It's a crude measurement but it confirms this is not an isolated problem, that the Afghan batsmen have consistently been unable to play the long, match-defining innings that their play at this World Cup has been crying out for.
In the past year, only four players are averaging more than 30 and two of those, Mohammad Shahzad who has returned home injured, and Asghar Afghan the former captain who has yet to play in the tournament, were not included today. The decision to remove Afghan from the captaincy in April and then not select him for any of the three matches so far in this tournament looks increasingly misguided. He scored 219 runs in four ODIs against Ireland as recently as March and his experience would be useful, particularly now they are without Shahzad, their best batsman.
Afghanistan's bowling attack looks in better fettle, though. Hassan bowled quickly, Aftab Alam hit good areas more often than not to pick up three wickets and Rahmat Shah bowled far better than the part-timer he is. Rashid Khan did not field as a precaution after his blow to the head but his talent is undeniable and although it was bewildering why Nabi, who took four wickets against Sri Lanka, bowled just three overs, he is also a class act.
It is an attack with the ability to trouble teams provided they have runs on the board. Even chasing 172, New Zealand's batsmen did not find things easy, struggling against some disciplined bowling. At one stage, Williamson had spent 53 balls getting to 27. If Afghanistan had 260 on the board, who knows? Right now, Afghanistan would bite your hand off for 260, a total that currently looks unattainable given the frantic nature of their batting. They will make no impression on this World Cup if things remain that way.
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