Afghanistan lost their tenth 50-over game in a row when they went down by seven wickets in the first ODI. One doesn’t envy a captain who inherits such a problem – Rashid Khan is once again in charge of trying to change things bigger than himself.
The primary problem with Afghanistan’s ODI cricket is their batting. At the moment, they are not getting quick starts consistently, they are rarely making it past the first powerplay without losing wickets and, as a result, the middle overs become all about rebuilding. Unfortunately, at this stage of their journey, they are yet to find someone who can do that without compromising on the scoring rate.
Sample this: the team has made more than 250 only once in the last ten matches, and that was in a botched chase of 312 against West Indies. They batted the full 50 overs or at least came close in each of the five matches before this series began, but apart from the chase against West Indies, those were all efforts at just pushing past 200. For now, this series, and perhaps the next few, are all about improving that aspect of their game.
Their opponents, however, are not the worst team around to seek some inspiration from. After all, who in modern cricket has tried to rebuild as many times as West Indies?
Afghanistan LLLLL (completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies WLLWL
In the spotlight
Ikram Alikhil has shown something to the management that has convinced them to put him front and centre lately. The wicketkeeper-batsman was a nervous, shaky starter batting low down the order during the World Cup for which he wasn’t originally picked; his first two innings were 2 off 22 and 9 off 33. He had hit only two fours in his first eight innings – in 166 balls. The last man you would think of while chasing 312. And yet, Afghanistan decided to send him in at No. 3 and for at least 34 overs, Alikhil kept West Indies alert to a potential defeat. That 93-ball 86 was his last innings prior to the 58 he scored before being run-out for 58 in a contentious manner in the first ODI. With Hashmatullah Shahidi not in the team and Hazratullah Zazai not in form, the 19-year-old is suddenly one of Afghanistan’s most important batsman.
Shimron Hetmyer is something of a crowd favourite for his belligerent batting style. That very style also makes him frustrating to follow sometimes – in his last ten limited-overs innings, including the CPL, Hetmyer has made eight single-digit scores. Since the end of September, Hetmyer’s highest score in six limited-overs outings is just 9. Can he turn it around?
Shimron Hetmyer pulls one to the boundary Getty Images
Afghanistan could be tempted to switch up their batting by handing a debut to 17-year-old Ibrahim Zadran, who made 87 on Test debut against Bangladesh recently. A change in their seam-bowling options might also be on the cards.
Afghanistan (possible): 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Javed Ahmadi/Ibrahim Zadran, 3 Rahmat Shah, 4 Ikram Alikhil (wk), 5 Najibullah Zadran, 6 Asghar Afghan, 7 Mohammad Nabi, 8 Gulbadin Naib/Karim Janat, 9 Rashid Khan (capt), 10 Naveen-ul-Haq/Yamin Ahmadzai, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman
West Indies have little to think about and may well be unchanged. Perhaps Alzarri Joseph’s expensive spell could worry them – in which case they have sufficient back-up in Keemo Paul, or even Kharry Pierre as an extra spin option.
West Indies (possible): 1 Evin Lewis, 2 Shai Hope (wk), 3 Shimron Hetmyer, 4 Nicholas Pooran 5 Roston Chase, 6 Kieron Pollard (capt), 7 Jason Holder, 8 Romario Shepherd, 9 Sheldon Cottrell, 10 Alzarri Joseph/Keemo Paul/Khary Pierre, 11 Hayden Walsh Jr
Pitch and conditions
Smog continues to be a feature in the northern part of India, and while smog and pollution levels have only marginally decreased in Lucknow since the last match, it is still at an undesirable level. The visibility on Friday was measured at 3.2km, as opposed to Jaipur on the same day which had a visibility of 11.3km. It is expected to be overcast on match day.
Stats and trivia
In his last seven ODIs, Rashid has taken only three wickets at an average of 130 and an economy of 5.90.
Javed Ahmadi is 24 runs away from becoming the 11th Afghanistan batsman to 1000 ODI runs.
Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi have more ODI wickets between them than the entire West Indies squad combined.