Afghanistan will on Saturday be looking to salvage their last chance of going through to the Super Sixes after a dismal performance in the last three ICC World Cup Qualifier matches in Zimbabwe.
After losing to Zimbabwe, Scotland and Hong Kong, the team will take on Nepal in their make or break match in Bulawayo on Saturday.
Going into the tournament, Afghanistan was one of the favorites to finish in the top two at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018, but the beleaguered team is on the verge of crashing out of the tournament.
The team has been without Asghar Stanikzai, the regular captain who had to undergo an appendicitis operation, and also lost senior player Mohammad Shahzad for the Hong Kong game and the next one with Nepal, when he was suspended for banging his bat into one of the pitches in frustration after his dismissal against Zimbabwe.
Afghanistan captain Rashid Khan, was on Thursday, after the team’s loss against Hong Kong, at a loss to explain the downturn in his team’s fortunes.
“Before the tournament, we lost the skipper, and now we lost an aggressive batsman in Shahzad. Things just aren’t going our way,” said the star leg-spinner.
Losing the services of Mohammad Shahzad has come as a big blow to Afghanistan.
“You can't expect such a performance from Afghanistan, the way we have played in the last two years. The guys played some irresponsible cricket, which wasn't expected from them. But it happens sometimes in cricket. Sometimes it doesn't go your way. Sometimes a match doesn't go your way. Sometimes a tournament doesn't go your way.”
Speaking specifically about the Hong Kong game, Rashid said it came down to the Afghans not being able to control their nerves. Chasing 242, Afghanistan were 73/4 when Mohammad Nabi and Najibullah Zadran added 59 for the fifth wicket. Things went pear-shaped after that.
“I think we were in the game until Nabi and Najibullah got out,” said Rashid. “But after losing Nabi, the rain came, and the match started to get away from us.
“The wicket was good for batting in the morning, but it got difficult later on. We weren't expecting the clouds. It was bad luck for us. It suddenly came in, and totally changed the game. But we didn't bat well. When the pressure was on, we couldn't control our nerves, and that caused us to lose the match.”
As things stand in Group B, Scotland (6 points from 3 games) and Zimbabwe (4 points from 2 games) are ahead of the pack, while the win over Afghanistan has given Hong Kong a chance. To get in among the top three and qualify for the Super Sixes, Rashid’s team must not only beat Nepal in their final game but also hope for Zimbabwe and Nepal to beat Hong Kong. That will put all three of Afghanistan, Nepal and Hong Kong on two points, with net run rate deciding who goes through.
“It's really touch and go,” agreed Rashid. “If we can gain something in the Nepal game, and then something happens between Hong Kong and Nepal, anything can happen. But the way we played in the last three games, it's not what you expect from Afghanistan.”